Week 9. Tee Clarkson: Richmond Four-Season Sportsman
One of these days Tee Clarkson is going to hit the trifecta: “Brook trout, smallies, and stripers, all in one day,” he says. “All on one tank of gas.”
It’s very doable for Tee, at least from a geographic perspective. He’s based in Richmond, a city founded right on the fall line at the highest navigable point that ships could make it upriver. That means tidal waters and headwaters all within a couple of hours, and primetime rocky smallmouth water within minutes.
The challenge for Tee is finding the time. He writes two columns on the outdoors for the Richmond Times-Dispatch every week, in addition to freelance articles with publications such as The Fly Fishing Journal and The Drake.
In addition to his writing, he also runs Virginia Outside, an outdoor education program for kids he founded that is now in its 14th summer, and also works at the Atoka Conservation Exchange to sell preservation tax credits to landowners.
I caught up with Tee on a September afternoon when he had just gotten back from a trip to Montana and North Dakota, and I was getting ready to head to Big Sky Country myself.
Below are my questions in bold, followed by his answers.
You’ve hunted and fished all over the hemisphere but are based in the River City, Richmond. How does the mid-Atlantic stack up for hunting and fishing?
I’ve guided in Colorado, Utah, and Oregon, and worked in Chile and Argentina, but I ended up coming back to Richmond where I’m from. At first, I thought there wasn’t going to be as the kind of opportunities here that I’d experienced, but what I quickly came to realize that we actually have a greater variety. What I mean is that we don’t necessarily have the best trout, the best duck hunting, or the best upland bird hunting — but we have all of it! Anywhere in the mid-Atlantic, you have opportunities all around within a couple of hours. Yes, I would love to hunt shorttail [grouse] in Montana, but what do you do there in February and March? You have trout fishing but you can’t catch stripers.
On the other hand, access is the definitely the most challenging issue here, particularly for the hunter. In North Dakota, you can pull up along the side of the road, and if it’s not posted, you can hunt anywhere. Nothing against the WMAs [Wildlife Management Areas] — we have a lot of great WMAs and they do a great job — but if you go on the weekends you’re going to have a tough time. I’m fortunate to be able to do it on weekdays. At Tuesday at 1pm, it’s probably only me. I’d say public access and finding spots is probably most different.
What would you say are some of your home waters?
The James River is really my home water. I can be right out the door and catching shad in five minutes in March, stripers in May, and smallmouth and flathead in the summer.
I spend a lot of time in the swamps and tidal rivers too 45 minutes east of Richmond, where do most of my duck hunting. The Pamunkey, Mattaponi, Chickahominy, and all of the tidal marshes up and down the Rappahannock too. Also, Mobjack Bay for redfish and stripers.
I’ll also go up to the mountains sometimes and love brook trout fishing. We have hundreds of miles of brook trout habitat.
One of these days, I’d love to spend a day and get brook trout, smallies, and redfish or stripers all in one day on one tank of gas. I need to dedicate a day to do that. We could follow the James or the Rapp, and go all the way down river from the headwaters to the tidal waters. Now is really the time to do that [in October].
What are you hunting or fishing for each of the four seasons?
Starting at the top of the calendar year, January is my favorite time to duck and goose hunt.
Moving into February, that’s one of my favorite times to bass fish the pre-spawn. We start getting some nice days with highs in the high 40s, into the 50s, and low 60s. I’m a member of fishing club on a mill pond, and I’ll go up there a lot in February. That time of year, it’s really hit or miss — you might catch nothing, or you might catch a 8-9 pounder. I’ll do that into early March.
March 15 is the date where I feel like every year there are going to be some shad in the James. Once they’re in, I’ll do a lot of shad fishing. The shad and the stripers will come right up into Richmond and that will last all the way through May.
When that’s winding down, I’ll start getting into smallmouth fishing, and do a lot of smallmouth trips on the James and Rappahannock.
In April and May, I’ve also really gotten into turkey hunting the last few years, and that’s become one of my favorite things to do.
In the summertime, it’s mostly camp season, and I’m traveling around with the kids, fishing farm ponds. I sometimes will take a trip to Honduras for permit fishing in June, but it’s mostly about taking the kids out. I don’t do as much fishing in the summer myself, though I do do some surf-fishing for reds and sharks in North Carolina.
September 1 is of course the opener of dove, the official beginning of fall, and I’m always excited for that.
The first split in October for duck hunting — hunting woodies — is one of my favorite traditions. I love that short duck season in October, and usually try to go with my brothers. Some of my greatest memories are on opening day, hunting woodies with my brothers.
November is a great month for deer. I’m not a big deer hunter but it’s really great for that. The regular duck season also starts, and I’ll start getting big into that.
Also, in November and December, one of my favorite things to do the past few years is hunt woodcock with my wirehaired griffon. I’ve really gotten into that the last couple of years and do a ton of woodcock hunting. You hear a lot about how quail have declined so much, but you can really find plenty of woodcock on public property. It’s surprising, but I’ve found woodcock in almost every WMA and state forest.
It sounds like a true “52 week season” life! You must cross paths with a interesting people?
Yea, for sure. For example, I went out onto Tangier Island and hunted waterfowl out in the Tangier Sound -- it’s like going to another planet out there! -- I hunted with a guide who does waterfowl hunts in the winter, and then in the summertime scrapes for softshells. I got to go back in the summer and scrape for softshells with him and learn how to do that which was a lot of fun!