- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 2, 2002

KNOXVILLE, Md. — Shortly after zipping up our life vests, having stashed rods, reels, coolers and tackle bags into John Hayes' inflatable boat, we found the seats exceptionally comfortable and particularly comforting whenever we dug our fingernails into the upholstery while the licensed guide slithered, bobbed and weaved through a Class 3 stretch of Potomac River whitewater.
Whitewater? During a smallmouth bass outing?
"Everything's fine. Don't worry," shouted Hayes over the din of the rushing, foaming river. He expertly maneuvered his rubber craft forward, then allowed it to shoot sideways for 10 yards or so, and seconds later strained against a set of 11-foot-long composite graphite oars to back the boat into a boiling cauldron of river water.
He splendidly executed the reverse move, and the boat slipped gently out of a veritable maelstrom into a placid stretch of the Potomac.
In the distance, not far from Harper's Ferry, loomed a mountainous tourist overlook the bright reds and blues of visitors' jackets and caps plainly visible against rocks and densely growing trees.
"Over there in that quiet pocket, where those bushes stick up, we'll give it a try," said Hayes, and again pulled on the oars to help steer the boat while a prop-less 60-hp Mercury motor sucked water into an impeller and spewed it back out to provide propulsion. They call these things jet motors, but they have nothing to do with the jets of aviation.
Hayes, who works with the renowned Mark Kovach Fishing Services, a guide group that specializes in Potomac River float trips (its boss, Kovach, also conducts popular fly fishing schools), proved to be a delightful companion a man who intimately knows the Potomac and the adjacent Shenandoah.
He watched Bob Lunsford of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources freshwater fisheries department and me as we cast various rubbery grubs and jigs from spinning outfits and soon felt the first bites from fish. Lunsford immediately hooked and lost a fine smallmouth bass; I caught a fat channel catfish that snatched up a Mann's Sting Ray grub just like a bass would.
"Way to go," said Hayes with a laugh, then moved the boat into various other positions so Lunsford and I had easy access to a number of slack-water eddys that touched the swift river water.
It would be along those fast to slow water edges where the bass often waited in ambush, hoping for an unsuspecting minnow or anything else that looked edible to happen by. Our plastic-bodied lures, liberally dabbed with a creamy fish attractant, soon were met by more "brown" fish, as smallmouth bass are known. Most of them were youthful specimens, but on occasion we'd hook (and sometimes lose) a 16-incher or so, which is a respectable size for a mountain bass. On a day when the water was a little stained and moving along at a fair clip, we nonetheless had well over 20 smallmouths, three or four channel catfish, and on several occasions saw our lines cut after we felt the touch of a fish. Could it have been a walleye or a tiger muskellunge? The Potomac has plenty of either species.
What made our day was a typical Mark Kovach Fishing Services shore lunch. Hayes laughed at the meager sandwiches we'd brought and recommended we save them for the ride home. He ran his DIB it stands for Demarre Inflatable Boat onto a river shore that would provide welcome shade from the sun. Within minutes he unraveled folding table and chairs, a bowl of guacamole and corn chips, another bowl filled with delicious pasta salad, assorted meats (including pastrami and chicken), various sauces, lettuce and salsa that soon was folded into an edible wrap, a kind of soft, large tortilla. It was delicious.
"We do that at every outing," said Hayes, 53, who also is the owner of John B. Hayes Tobacconist at Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax but who spends most of his time guiding fishing parties, encouraging his clients to bring fly rods or conventional tackle.
"I'll help them catch fish no matter what kind of tackle they prefer," he said. "And if a client needs instruction for his new fly fishing outfit, we do that as well. The idea is to provide memorable fishing trips."
We enthusiastically concur with that last sentence and hasten to add that Kovach's guides earn every penny of the $370 (for two anglers) that is charged. By the way, it is not unusual for Hayes to be on the water for 10 hours.
Lest you think that this is a rubber boat that runs the risk of being punctured, don't fret. Hayes' DIB contains an aluminum frame, a powerful outboard in the back, an electric trolling motor on the bow, plus long oars that are skillfully manipulated by the guide. I never felt safer on the upper Potomac than I did during my day with John Hayes.
Interested in such a float fishing trip? Hayes can be reached at 703/327-6992; Mark Kovach at 301/588-8742.

*Look for Gene Mueller's Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report every Friday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]

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