A little past daylight and just on the other side of Sidling Hill cut Tim Bowers and I were noticing how far behind Western Maryland trees were in leafing out compared to the central part of the state. Just then, a wild turkey flew across I68 and landed on the ridge above us reminding me it was also opening weekend for spring turkey. Judging from the cars parked here and there on both sides of the road the guys were out in force. This bird looked spooked; as he landed amongst a thin stand of trees on top of the knoll I could clearly see his out-stretched neck silhouetted against the morning sky as he lurched stiffly through the woods nervously looking for any other hunters that might be in the area.
Arriving at the parking lot next to the stone bridge just across the river from Penn Alps, Will Amland, Patrick Masler, and Steve Vance were already there waiting on us. It was a nice morning, just a tinge of coolness in the air under a mostly clear sky. Water level was lower than usual for this time of year, but still very fishable. Walking in behind Patrick and Steve we joined them on the first bend about a quarter mile below the bridge and filled up the empty spots above and below the big pool. No bugs were hatching except for a few midges and there were no rises. I broke ice first hooking and landing a 10 inch brown on a #18 caddis pupae. Later, meandering down river, I watched Tim making tight little casts underneath some branches of a fallen tree lying in shallow water close to the bank. He said he was getting some slaps at an elk hair fished right next to the log making dry fly action a real possibility.
There’s a good run just past the second bend that rarely fails to produce at least a couple of fish, today was no exception. Dropping a Patuxent special down the throat at the head of the pool it drifted into deep water before coming to a stop under a large rock. Raising the rod a fat 14 inch rainbow shook its head then bulldogged its way across the bottom of the pool. It was a strong fish and took some line in a series of little runs before giving up. The Patuxent failed to work again so I tied on a lime green & partridge soft hackle and collected another brown about the same size as the earlier one back upstream. Heading for the bridge I stopped short about 150 yards away when I could see there was already a small convention of anglers there in a tight little group all trying to fish the same hole. Turning around and backtracking up river I ran into Tim coming down. I asked him how he was doing with that caddis and he said he had two rainbows, a brown, and a bass on it so far.
Regrouping back on the second bend, Tim, Will and I noticed the caddis hatch had increased from ones and twosies to pouring off in little bursts of a dozen or so. Tim drifted his caddis over a deep run under a large tree on the far side to hook a couple more, landing one brown, while Will concentrated on a big fish showing at least a passing interest now and then. Meanwhile, I tried to net a caddis as they sped upstream, after several flailing attempts, I had a #14 black bodied caddis with dark mottled wings trapped in net. Changing to a soft hackle of dark body and partridge it produced no interest whatsoever from the fish, then changing back to partridge and lime I missed a good strike.
It was a little afternoon by this time so we headed back to where we left Patrick and Steve, to find Patrick working his own elk hair magic with 6 browns to net. Deciding we better get lunch and check in at the Casselman we headed back to the cars.
The 100 mile rule in full effect we inhaled slabs of pizza and Italian subs as we pondered the possibilities before deciding to head over to the North Branch and fish the falling discharge. In the early going at least, after hiking up to the upper section, this looked to be a great decision. Tim, Patrick and I fished both sides of the island by the upper wire. Within 20 minutes we had a half dozen fish landed, once, all three of us into a fish at the same time. Tim fishing in the slower water behind me got three, one a 17 inch rainbow on a Patuxent Special, Patrick nailing a couple, one a good rainbow on an Egg the other on a Pax Sp., Me getting two browns on Crystal Meth, then, it all just stopped. With an hour left we hiked back down to fish the holes just above the lower water. Fishing proved to be just as slow there, however both Will and Patrick stuck fish; Patrick landed a brown, Will looked to be in a good one but lost it just as I was heading his way with the camera.
It’s easy to become addicted to the North Branch, especially in the fall, but fishing the North Branch at something over 300 cfs, is like being in a wrestling match with someone much bigger. Just walking next to the river on those softball sized rocks punishes your ankles and feet, and once in the river, the current constantly pushes on you, twisting your knees and lower back. At every step the gravel beneath your feet shifts away as the river attempts to throw you down, an event usually avoided only by quick bursts of adrenaline and scrambling tactics once you suddenly realize things are about to come unhinged and you’re going in; until finally, at the end of the day, you are quite happy to slog one more time through the troughs of water between you and shore and haul your tired carcass back up on the bank and be done with it, at least until tomorrow.
Heading for the Keysers Ridge truck stop for supper, we thought maybe one of the chapter elders staying up in the Savage River cabins might come down from the mountain with a fishing report, but instead it was only the sand man who showed up and ushered us back to the Inn. Earlier in the evening there had been brash talk of an after supper fly tying session, with whiskey drinking augmented no doubt with shameless lies. But the rivers and the day had gotten the best of us, and once back we all just headed off quietly to our rooms and bed.
The next morning I woke up right at dawn to the sound of singing birds and didn’t even realize it was raining for several minutes. We were only expecting moist and cloudy. Tim and I made a quick foray to the river and found rising water and a widening band of mud sliding downstream from the feeder just above Route 40. Mulling this unexpected development over sausage and biscuits at the new truck stop while the rain poured down made us think the trip might be over. But heading back to the Inn to consult with our compadres the rain stopped and we all decided to head for the Savage. We found Jay Sheppard and Ken Bowyer right where we expected, on the PHD pool drifting tiny flies to fussy trout. I asked Jay if the olives were coming off. He said, “no” then muttered something about small black flies. They looked busy so we left ’em to it.
Suiting up in the long parking lot next to the road we split up and headed in. I headed down to the wing dam just below the walking bridge. To successfully spot, stalk, present and hook a good fish on 7X and a #26 Griffiths gnat should be enough, but it just isn’t. As the fish took line out into the pool and heavier water I was becoming aware the fast water was creating drag as more line was pulled out. I was trying to keep the slack off the water and minimize that fact when I felt the subtle slight tic, and I knew the fly had pulled out. Like I said it should be enough but in the end if I don’t get my net wet I just feel like a frustrated teenager.
The sky darkening up again, so I headed back up river and found Tim already back at the car. He had gotten a couple; one brook and one brown both on soft hackles but then the fish turned off. It was about 1:30 pm by this time and we decided it might be a good a time to pack it in and spent the last 20 minutes before leaving looking for morel mushrooms along the bank but finding none.
Driving out we came across Will drifting a fly through a likely looking run. Will said he hadn’t connected yet but wasn’t giving up just yet either. Further on down just above the Savage River cabins we spotted both Patrick and Steve fishing the big pool at the bend. Hollering down to ask if they had had any luck, Patrick pointed at Steve and said he had 4 browns and 3 brookies so far, Patrick himself netting one each before leaving. For a couple of hours on the savage I would say nine fish is a success.
It was good trip, everybody caught some trout. I think Tim had the most with 9 and the biggest with a 17 inch bow, Patrick had 8, Steve 7, I had 5 and I’m not sure what Will ended up with, I think 5 or 6. On the drive back home the rain came down in slanting sheets and made me think about Jim Keil at the last board meeting saying, “gimmie me water”. Well, I’m not sure how much we got Jim, but it had to help.