If you want to get good at something, talk to the experts" -- Lefty Kreh

Thanks for visiting 52 Week Season!

52 Week Season is a project to explore a hunting or fishing opportunity each week of the year in the mid-Atlantic. When I started, my intention was to interview various hunting and fishing guides on their approaches throughout the seasons, but I increasingly became more interested in the seasonal patterns of the species themselves and the yearly rituals we build around them. 

Some of these traditions are based on seasonal cues such as migrations or reproduction, while others are purely institutionalized by the DNR. 

For example, we don’t know exactly when the conditions will be perfect for the green drake hatch, whitetail rut, or canvasback migrations, but we have a pretty good idea from years of trial and error and perhaps some data (Memorial Day, mid-November, and “Canuary,” respectively). We itch for a warming trend for yellow perch in the spring and a northwest cold front for Canada geese at the fall but are at the mercy of mother nature. 

Yet we do know that the best opportunity for dove is high noon on September 1, that White Marlin Open is the first full week of August, and that schools are closed the Monday after Thanksgiving for whitetail opener in Pennsylvania. 

Many of these yearly traditions revolve around food -- springtime means shad plankings and fall means oyster roasts -- while others are strictly for sport. Some rituals aren’t based on science or calendar at all but just feel right. Mid-summer is the not the best time for largemouth bass, but there’s something about throwing poppers on a glassy lake before a July thunderstorm.

 Could you possibly hit each of these experiences in 52 weeks? Of course not. It’s absurd to you think you would have the time, but it’s also crazy to assume that a shark fisherman cares to throw flies at brook trout or that a duck hunter has any interest in coyotes. Plus, a jack of all trades is usually a master of none. 

But if you’re lucky, you can start to make connections. A hunter of diving ducks will know to return to the “hard bottom” during rockfish season, and a pheasant hunter can always use those tail feathers for a steelhead fly. And what is more satisfying than a cast-and-blast day targeting speckled trout and blue-wing teal in a September marsh? 

Some of the critters on this list are native and some are non-native, and many times it’s not clear. Largemouth bass are a familiar non-native species while snakehead are a non-native monster in many people’s eyes. Brown trout are non-native but long-established; sika deer are imported but at the same time unique to Maryland; and elk are native but reestablished. Tarpon and coyotes seem way out of place but are adapting to changing environments. 

So what is the "Mid-Atlantic"?  

One of my favorite descriptions is the boundaries of the Chesapeake Bay watershed featured in William Warner's Beautiful Swimmers

"The Bay’s entire watershed extends north through Pennsylvania to the Finger Lakes and Mohawk Valley country of New York, by virtue of the Susquehanna, the mother river that created the Bay. To the west it traces far back into the furrowed heartland of Appalachia, but one mountain ridge short of the Ohio-Mississippi drainage, by agency of the Potomac. To the east the flatland rivers of the Eastern Shore rise from gum and oak thickets almost within hearing distance of the pounding surf of the Atlantic barrier islands. To the south, Bay waters seep through wooded swamps to the North Carolina sounds, where palmettos, alligators and great stands of bald cypress first appear." 


-- Patrick Ottenhoff, Washington, DC


Week 9. Tee Clarkson: Richmond Four-Season Sportsman

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. 

“We don’t necessarily have the best trout, the best duck hunting, or the best upland bird hunting — but we have all of it!”

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.

Tee working those Shenandoah headwaters

Tee working those Shenandoah headwaters

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. 

Tee with the next generation of shad anglers

Tee with the next generation of shad anglers

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. 

Tee with a nice gobbler

Tee with a nice gobbler

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!

Week 10. George Daniel: Livin' on the Fly

Week 10. George Daniel: Livin' on the Fly

Week 8. Sean Mann: World Champion Goose Gunner

Week 8. Sean Mann: World Champion Goose Gunner