You know it’s been a long winter when twelve people show up to fish on a cold breezy morning of 36 degrees, all smiles and just happy to be there.
By the time Will Amland, Cathy Nutter, and I arrived the right side parking lot was already full of fishers and hikers. Pulling off into the left lot Tim Bowers was right behind us, followed by Art Friedlander and Bob Dietz. Walking across the road to the other lot to say howdy, Steve Graves was already mid-stream fishing the bridge pool, and Ken Bowyer, Steve Fletcher, Carter Wildermuth and Desmond Butler were in the various stages of gearing up. Carl Smolka they said was somewhere down stream.
I think of the February outing to Big Hunting Creek as the brown outing. Even in years when there’s snow on the ground the brownness of the place just bursts through, and when there’s no snow, like yesterday, the browns seem to swallow up the subtler greens and grays into a collage of leaf litter and bare trees.
Without a caucus or a general plan, we all just sort of dispersed heading either up or down. Walking out I headed up stream. Glancing back I saw a very determined looking young fella of about ten or eleven under the watchful eyes of mom and a sister scaling the steep bank down to the water as fast as he could. Clutching a tackle box in one hand, and what looked to be a zebco outfitted with a large red and white bobber gripped in the other, his short legs scrambling from rock to rock oblivious to everything except the water below.
A little guy like that lives in all fishermen no matter how old we get, and smiling I thought Aw what the heck, what can he hurt, and started on up, then stopped, turned around, and walked back to the lot. Getting close enough I said “Mam”, “before the warden comes and gives you get a ticket, I should tell you this is a special regulations catch and release area, fly fishing only”. She didn’t even hesitate, she and daughter both obviously cold already and probably looking for an excuse to get out of there as soon as possible, just turned back toward the kid, and yelled “hey!” “Get back up here, you can’t fish here”. In disbelief the kid looked up and said “what?!”, then with another “get up here!” from mom, he shut the lid on his tackle box in obvious exasperation and trudged back up the bank all the way giving me one of those ; who are you, and what’s your problem anyway looks?!
His mom then turned back and asked “where can he fish”? I didn’t really know, but I told her I thought he could probably fish in the big pond (Frank Bentz) at the bottom of the hill on the way into Thurmont. As it turns out, Cathy said the game warden did come by a little later and check licenses, although I doubt if he would have actually have issued the kid a ticket.
I was thinking about it later, and in hind sight I probably should have offered to go down there with them and try to help him catch something. I can picture this kid spending hours pleading to be taken out someplace to fish, then finally, after enough badgering his mom relents; he finally gets to the water rod in hand, only to have me show up and put the kibosh on the whole venture before he can even manage to get his line wet.
Two fishless hours later, Will and Tim hiked by the pool I was standing in, with me asking if they had any luck. Will said he landed a good size brookie on a stimulator and lost another, and that he had just talked to Bob who had three on his Spanish Needle soft hackle, undermining my rationalizations that the fish weren’t biting because of the drop in temperature. Will and I shared a pool for a few minutes: he moving on and I thinking I should do the same but then seeing a rise decided to stay. For two hours a large fish and a couple of smaller ones rose in splashes and spurts to a hatch I was unable to see, the largest fish leaving rise bubbles as large as a plum; and for two hours I changed flies and drift positions without even a look; sometimes the fish taking something so close to my fly I set the hook to nothing. With cold and exasperation sinking in I was thinking of just giving up, but instead I tied on the ugliest fly in my midge box, a #20 Griffiths gnat I have previously considered throwing away on several occasions for having too long a hackle and excessive white in the tips.
The largest fish took it on the first cast, a fat bookie nicely colored up and just about large enough to span the frame of my 15 inch net. I wasn’t as cold now, but deciding it must be getting close to our meeting time at the parking lot I headed back down stream and came across Bob who was heading back up. By this time he and his Spanish Needle had racked up six fish, three brookies all over 12 inches, and three browns, by far the best numbers of the day.
Getting back to the lot the guys began to drift in. Tim said he got a brown, and Will saying just the two he reported earlier, the one he landed, and the one he lost. Art, fishing both above and below the bridge had 5 or 6 takes on his Caddis/Stimulator pattern, playing two for awhile before losing them, and then later landing two browns on that fly, before changing to a midge pupae and getting a brookie for a total of three.
By the time we got our waders off Bob had driven in followed a little later by Steve and Ken. I said some of us were talking about heading into town for some hot food and drink. Ken and Steve said they were still full of the chili dogs and onions with potato salad they had earlier, and that it really helped kick the cold for the rest of the afternoon, but thought they still might have room left for some desert.
Carl and Desmond had already left, but Desmond who is a new PPTU member, had landed his first fly caught trout, a 14 inch brookie. Kudos to you Desmond, getting your first trout on a fly on a cold day in February is doing it the hard way! Steve Fletcher said he and Ken spent the first 3 hours in the canyon section. He foul hooked a nice rainbow, with Ken getting a hook up on a brookie using a bead head brassie but lost it before he got it in the net. Ken adding they spent the afternoon up stream near the Joe Brooks memorial, and although they didn’t get any strikes, they did see a rise and spotted some little black stones.
Afterwards, nine of us headed in to Thurmont and the Cozy Inn to thaw out and have a little early dinner. At the Inn, Steve Graves reported he also landed a 14 inch brookie on a #12 soft hackle, and I think Carter said he got one also. It would appear that, unless there has already been some early stocking done, a fair number of the brookies have held over and seem to be in pretty good shape, fairly hefty and still beautifully colored.
I learn something new on every trip. On this trip; it was that cold weather fishing really activates the sweet tooth.