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 4. Copper Fox Distillery: Applewood-Aged Virginia Whisky

Week 4. Copper Fox Distillery: Applewood-Aged Virginia Whisky

If you want to catch fish, you need to think like a fish. And when you do catch fish, you need a good whisky.

With those two truths in mind, I recently crossed paths with Copper Fox Distillery in Sperryville, Virginia. Their distillery sits in the shadow of Shenandoah National Park and specifically in the Thornton River watershed, whose tributaries like Piney River and the North Fork are some of the most productive brook trout streams in the region. Follow those waters down the slope past Oventop Mountain, and they converge as the Thornton River, which runs through the mountainside village of Sperryville and directly through the Copper Fox Distillery. 

It turns out that the same conditions that those mountain brookies love — shaded, cool, clear water — also make for excellent whisky. 

Follow these brook trout streams downriver to find Copper Fox Distillery

Follow these brook trout streams downriver to find Copper Fox Distillery

I’ve driven through Sperryville on countless mornings on the way to SNP to stalk brookies, but only recently was I lucky enough to try Copper Fox. They produce a rye, gin, and a flagship Wasmund's Single Malt that’s made with grains smoked from Piedmont applewood and cherry that make it one of the more distinct and highly-rated whiskies in Virginia. 

I first tried their single malt in April at the Wakefield Shad Planking and finally caught up with owner Rick Wasmund on an August morning to hear more about their roots in Sperryville, sourcing of barley from the Northern Neck, and big expansion in Williamsburg. 

Below are my question in bold, followed by Rick’s answers. 

Your distillery sits in the shadow of Shenandoah National Park and some my favorite trout streams. How did you end up in Sperryville? 

I’d tasted a lot of good whiskies but thought were all pretty similar, and I thought it would be fun to make a whisky with applewood and cherrywood and some of the native woods in Northern Virginia. There wasn’t something like that in existence.  Oh, and I also needed a job I could do with my dog, Acacia — who’s also named after a tree.

A Sperrvyille sunset

A Sperrvyille sunset

We picked Sperryville because it was close to a lot of the old apple orchards near the Rappahannock. You’ve probably heard of the Apple Blossom Festival up in Winchester — we have a lot of apples here too, and the distillery is actually based in an old apple storage building. We also use some wild cherry indigenous to Virginia. 

By the way, we’re opening up a distillery in Williamsburg, too, and we have a big pond in the back with some bass, so you’ll need to come fish that too. 

It sounds like you source all from Virginia? 

Yes, everything we use is from Virginia. We work with a couple of farmers in the Northern Neck for our grain, and get our barley from Heathsville from a farmer named Billy Dawson. 

Our oak, cherry, and applewood is all from the area. We get our barrels from Virginia Gentleman based in Fredericksburg. 

What kinds of whiskies to your produce?

We have our single-malt that is 100% barley, a rye whisky of 2/3 rye and 1/3 hand-malted barley, and a single-malt gin. We’re very proud of our single malt whisky that got a pretty insane rating of 94.5 in Jim Murray's Whisky Bible. We also have a peach wood that we’re introducing right before Thanksgiving and produce Founding Farmers Rye for the Founding Farmers restaurant in DC. 

As a fisherman, I know how to drink whisky, but know little about the distilling process. Can you walk me through the process, from grain to glass? 

Well the single-malt really highlights our process. It’s 100% malted barley. The grain has a very particular season that we follow.  It’s plantedin the fall, typically in October, and then it grows through the winter. 

Distilled in the Commonwealth of Virginia

Distilled in the Commonwealth of Virginia

By March and April, the fields are absolutely gorgeous and beautiful — full fields blowing in the wind. It’s mother nature at its best. We typically harvest the back half of May. 

In our harvest process, we can store enough so that we can make whisky all year ‘round. 

We use a traditional floor malting. The grain is soaked in water then drained. It is then spread on the floor where it is raked daily by hand, until the seeds partially germinate. This starts the process of changing the starch in the grain to sugar. Once the grain is ready, it needs to be dried out. For this we use smoke from burning the cherrywood or applewood in the kiln, and are burning about 30-35 cords per year. 

Do you have any favorite parts about the job or traditions through the process? 

The toast at the end. We age the whisky in applewood in the barrels, and when we’re ready to drink it, we pour the whisky, raise the glass, and toast the “to the wood.” 

Week 5. 001 Outdoor Adventures: Piedmont Upland Birds

Week 5. 001 Outdoor Adventures: Piedmont Upland Birds

Week 3. White Marlin Open: World's Largest Billfish Tournament

Week 3. White Marlin Open: World's Largest Billfish Tournament