Almy: Valley full of fishing experts

Sometimes you’d be surprised at who lives in the Shenandoah Valley. Most people who choose to make this area their home aren’t showy and self-aggrandizing. There may be famous people living next door to you, but you’d probably never know it. That’s partly why they chose to live here.

So some people are surprised to hear that one of the most famous fly fishing experts and authors in the world lives right here, working quietly at his well-stocked shop in Edinburg. That person is Harry Murray, owner of Murray’s Fly Shop on Main Street.

Murray has authored a number of excellent books and hundreds of articles on fly tying and fly fishing, focusing mostly on our local trout fishing in the Shenandoah National Park and the excellent smallmouth fly fishing in the Shenandoah. If you want to stop by his shop you’ll find everything you need from a $2 fly to a top-of-the-line graphite rod, along with free advice on where to go for the best fishing at the moment and what fly to use.

But if you really want to tap his knowledge, consider signing up for one of the winter and spring fly fishing workshops he offers, almost every Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon, for a reasonable fee of just $25. On Nov. 9, for instance, the topic will be Fly Fishing for Smallmouth Bass. On Nov. 16 and Feb. 22, the topic will be Fly Casting and Rigging Tackle. Nov. 23 will be Basic Fly Tying. On Nov. 30 and March 8, he’ll cover Advanced Fly Tying. Dec. 7 and Feb. 8 the topic is Fly Fishing for Trout. On Dec. 21 Murray will cover Spring Creek Trout Fishing. On Jan. 11 the topic is Streamer Tactics for Trout.

You can get a brochure listing all the dates and topics or go to his website, murraysflyshop.com, for details on the classes. He also offers more in depth, on the water two-day schools with personal hands-on instruction for trout and smallmouth bass in spring and summer. Call 984-4212 for more information on those classes.

When bass, pike and walleye venture into thigh-deep water, many anglers turn to topwater plugs. While these can be effective, sometimes skinny-water fish just won’t surface feed.

That’s the time to turn to shallow-diving crankbaits. There’s something about the wobbling action of these baits shimmying through the shallows that drives gamefish mad. Originally thought of as medium or deep-water lures, companies soon realized shorter-lipped versions that had the bulk, wiggle and fat-minnow shape of the originals could be hot producers for thin water fishing. Some of these dive just 12 inches, while others probe depths up to around three feet. This is perfect for times like fall and spring when fish are in the shallows.

Both wood and plastic models can be effective. Plastics cast farther, but wood has more buoyancy and lands softly if fish are in a skittish mood. Keep a selection of both on hand and choose one or the other according to the fishing situation you face. For color, either match the local forage or stick with proven standards such as silver and black, silver and blue, chartreuse, shad or firetiger.

The best retrieve with these baits is steady at a moderate to fast speed. You want to goad fish into making instinctive strikes as the bait wobbles frantically past them.

If this doesn’t produce, sometimes a slow, plodding retrieve will. Another alternative is to work the crankbait as a surface lure. Cast out and twitch it on top so it quivers seductively. If that doesn’t draw a strike, try jerking the rod so it dies a foot or two, then floats up like a wounded minnow. This is especially good when you come to a long or rock and a steady retrieve past it fails to draw a strike.

Since they are most effective at moderate and fast retrieves, these are great searching lures when you think fish are shallow, but they’re scattered and you need to locate them. Work flats, points any visible cover such as stumps, rocks or weed beds.

Because they dive so little, you can work these lures right over structure with few hang-ups. When stumps or logs are particularly shallow, try knocking the plugs into them, then pausing to let the lure back off and float free. The noise and disturbance of the crankbait smacking into the wood often draws jarring strikes from angry bass, pike, walleyes and pickerel.

Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.