Smallmouth Bass on the James River. Rescued Along the Way: Moonshine & a Small Boy

Friday morning, me and my buddy took the Jon boat out for a quick puppy drum mission. This guy was what I call a good start to a successful vacation!

Blair Hansford & a puppy drum
One more salty fish (a puppy drum) before we head off to the sweet water

After a couple quick hours on the salt we headed back to the house to load up the kayaks and head for my good friend’s cottage, called Billyville, on the upper James River. Billy Hale, owner of Billyville and a close friend, has put his heart and soul into the property to make it one of the most inviting places I have ever stayed.

If you are looking for somewhere to stay on the Upper James River, make sure to check it out in Buckingham County, Virgina.

Alright, so where was I? Oh yeah, Mission Objectives…..

The mission objectives were: a) to spend quality time with great friends, b) test out a few new, soft plastics I have been pouring for smallmouth bass


Shuffleboard at BillyVille in Virginia
These guys meant business!

Friday evening we arrived to burgers on the grill and cold beverages awaiting. Talk about impeccable timing. We proceeded to grub down, put on a nice firework display with some goodies we brought, and then walk over to the rental cottage to play wayyyy too many games of shuffleboard (the best table game ever created).

While shuffleboarding it up, we took turns picking through a million different colors of experimental colors for my new centipede and darting minnows I have started pouring just for smallies.

Each of us picked out their favorites, anticipating what would work best. After figuring out which section of the James River we were going to float, we got the trucks ready for the early morning mission and hit the sack.

6:30 (a.m.) came wayy too early but I woke up quickly thanks to the thoughts of smallies swimming in my head. We grabbed some breakfast snacks and drinks, then headed to Howardsville Landing to drop off the kayaks and canoes.

Thumbs up on day of fishing
Will giving the thumb of approval
Canoe Fishing
Locked and loaded!

We dumped off the kayaks, canoes, snorkeling gear, grill, coolers, and all kinds of random stuff that make for fun times. Dwain and I guarded the boats while Harold and Will dropped off Will’s truck and canoe trailer at our take-out location 12- miles downstream. Thirty-minutes later they return and it was time to hit the water.

As soon as we hit the water it was NON-STOP FISHING CATCHING! The white w/ black flake “Duck N Buck” Darting Minnows (lures) killed it, catching no less than 40 smallmouth over the course of our float.

Underwar bass
Underwater shot!
Bass biting lure
Yep, they work!

I rigged it on a 1/8oz jighead to keep it lighter to avoid hanging into the rocks on the bottom. I even caught a 36-inch Longnose Gar, but opted-out on photos due to him wanting to get airborne and in my kayak with a full snout of razor-sharp teeth.

Base caught
One of the many other victims!

Will, Harold and Dwain decided to go with the DnB Crawdogs to start and we’re picking-up fish left and right too (Well, Will and Dwain were. Harold was having one of those dreaded hang-up-on-anything-and-everything days we all have from time to time).

About an hour into our float I hear a shout from Will from the canoe behind me….”JACKPOT!” He rings out. I turned to look, expecting to see his rod doubled over but instead he is head first in a treetop that had freshly fallen from the bank and still had a Pom-Pom of green leaves at the end.

Puzzled, I begin to paddle over. Will pops out of it like a squirrel, holding a mason jar with a huge grin on his face. He looks around and says in a low voice, “I just found a whole mason jar of moonshine!”

Der’s shine in dem der hills!

Of all the lost treasures we have found on the river (mainly because of people flipping canoes), this was a first. Despite the grimy outside appearance, it appeared air-tight and highly flammable. Even the cinnamon stick in it looked like it wasn’t all that old, so in the cooler it went.

Straight back to catching we went with a pit stop once or twice to take a dip in the refreshing water or to snorkel a deep section.

Floating with Dwain
Floating with Dwain

We were working up quite the appetite and were talking about pulling over to fire up the grill when a pair of canoes approached us with a couple father/son teams.

The lead canoe hollered the one thing you never want to be asked on the river, “Do you guys have pliers or a pair of snips?”

The boy in the front was red, appeared to have been crying and in pain. I knew before asking that he had a hook stuck in him somewhere.

We all pull off to the next sandy patch on the riverbank to assess the situation. The poor kid — probably 10 years old — had a treble-hook buried in his side.

Between the four of us, no one had any snips to cut the hook out. Will stepped in and offered to perform a trick that all fisherman should know — hook removal using nothing but fishing line. Will wrapped a piece of 12-pound test around the curve of the hook and told the kid that at the count of three he was going to turn the hook point down and yank on the line really quickly to remove the buried barb.

“One….” YANK!

The boy was caught off guard, and before he could yell, the hook was out. You could see the relief in the young man’s face. He went on to thank us five or ten times before they loaded up and headed on down river.


Seeing as we were already stopped and together we broke out the grill, threw on some dogs, cracked open some cold beers and waited for some much needed grub. Nothing tastes better than a river side grilled hotdog and a cold beer on a hot summer day!

Blain Hansford river cooking
River cooking

We piled back in after lunch and Harold and Will switched to DnB Centipedes to give them a go. They were a HIT!

For the rest of the float they caught one fish after another, all the way to Hatten Ferry where we met our waiting truck and trailer, packed up and headed back to the cottage.

Fishing catfish from canoe
Catf fishers on the James River

For dinner we cooked BBQ Chicken, grilled Cobia fillets, beans and rice, and mac & cheese. Afterwards we laughed about our wild day, enjoyed a few more cold beverages and called it a night.

The next day we loaded up and made the drive home. The tackle test was a huge success. I was able to take a lot of scenic pictures and have a blast with my friends. And, I know what colors and styles of bait to pour for my next visit.


About Blair Hansford

Blair is an avid fisherman in the Lower Chesapeake Bay. He also hunts and offers tips, tactics, recipes and pictures on his blog, Fish The Bay. (

Blair Hansford

Blair is an avid fisherman in the Lower Chesapeake Bay. He also hunts and offers tips, tactics, recipes and pictures on his blog, Fish The Bay. (

blair-hansford has 8 posts and counting.See all posts by blair-hansford

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