It was the first outing of 2006 and we began to gather in the parking lot next to the Camp Perniel Bridge on Big Hunting Creek a little before 9:00 am. Other members present were Tim Bowers, Michael Robins, Pete and Patrick Massler, and Nick Weber. As we pulled out our gear and began to string up, we rummaged through our bags for extra fleece, and gloves. I didn’t need to look at the thermometer to know it was a little chilly. We noticed skim ice around the edges of Frank Bentz’s pond coming in, and a slight breeze helped to numb our fingers making it difficult to tie knots.
In the absence of snow, it’s the brownness of the Catoctin mountains that testifies to the stark reality of winter. Through leafless tree tops you can see rock outcropping all the way at the top of the ridge, bald trunks spring out of the leaf-littered floor and run all the way down to the creek, then back up to the top on of the ridge on the other side.
After a quick strategy session trading some flies and tactics, we were on our way. I am a bit of a doubting Thomas, particularly in conditions like these. However, all reservation was soon dispelled by a grinning Michael who, as I entered the creek, announced he had just released a 13 inch rainbow taken on an egg pattern on his first cast!
Officially, Big Hunting Creek is tail water but has retained the genuine flavor of a mountain freestoner. Lots of pocket water, interspersed with a few deep pools and all connected by runs and little falls. It’s a wild brown trout fishery. There are also rainbows and bookies stocked by local clubs. A good number of these stockers hold over, especially the rainbows who can have mighty big shoulders for such small water.
By 11:30 the sky had cleared, temperatures had risen to around 50° and the bugs started to appear. First noticed were tiny grey midges dancing in the thermal currents, followed by little black stone flies in sizes ranging from #20 -#16 that were crawling all over everything – including us. On the way back to the truck for coffee and sandwiches I ran into Tim who reported catching a 10 inch brown by flicking a #12 grey nymph into a crevice around some pocket water. After lunch we were joined by Patrick and Michael at the bridge pool. Patrick said he had picked up three browns on stone fly dries. And last seen, Pete was trying to fight a good fish out from under a rock.
Nick had headed for the Smoot pool earlier that morning so we decided to walk up and see how he was faring. Nick said he caught a nice 12 inch brookie that rose to his stone fly dry, but had since been flummoxed by a good rainbow feeding in mid-column stationed only a foot below a sunken log, we took turns casting a variety of offerings next to the log trying not to get snagged while trying to get the fly down to the fish’s level. But, it would invariably drift past too high or too wide. We did our best; held our breath once or thrice, I think Nick even cheered once, but turns out she was safe enough around us. We gave up on her in spurts; Tim and I were the first to drift off, followed by Nick, Michael refusing to lose hope trailed off last.
Back at the parking lot, Pete confirmed his triumph over the fish trying to wedge himself under a rock, and related a tale about stepping off into a hole filled with mud and leaves. Pete said it looked just as solid as the ground around it but once in he sunk all the way to the arm pits slimed his fleece jacket and even filled the open breast pocket of his fishing vest with mud.
We all caught fish, and if laughter and smiles are indicators of a good time then I would have to say we all had fun. It’s not always blue sky and sunshine, but Saturday afternoon in the Catoctin mountains was pretty much all that.