Potomac-Patuxent Chapter Trout Unlimited
Spring in Appalachia is a couple weeks behind us and all along river road wild flowers shined like beacons amidst the bright green farm fields, and wide swaths of bluebells coursed through the strips of timber that border the river most of its length. Tim and I drove to the last pull off in Maryland before the river and into PA. There is a small road that takes you to the river, maybe a half a mile, and walking in I noticed the ridge lines were delicate green silver against bright blue sky. Getting to the bridge Tim entered the river and began to fish the edge of a deep hole while I crossed over and started working a wooly bugger tight against the bank. I noticed Tim had a fish on within minutes, and every time I looked back he seemed to pulling one in or just releasing a fish. I thought I was actually fishing the better water; the bank has a deep undercut on that side of the river that is overhung with hemlock and brush. I thought for sure slinging my bugger into that dark edge would produce a big’un , but after an hour or better of wading clear up to where the river flattened out without much cover I hadn’t had so much as a tug. Climbing out and walking the road back to where Tim was I stood on the bridge to watch him release another, his 10th he said. When I asked what he was using he said a big bright yellow caddis in a size #10 he had tied for steelhead.
The day had really colored up with bright sunshine, we hung around that hole until early afternoon, and I finally got one on a partridge and herl weighted and fished like a nymph. Around 2pm I decided I needed to shed some clothes and go up to the Inn and check in. It had started out in the 40’s that morning but warmed to near 60 by then. Driving up river we spotted a fair number of our group strung out from about a mile below and up to the metal bridge. I stopped the truck to holler at Bob who I’m sure was working an antique wet pattern off an antique bamboo rod; he said he had nothing yet. Then I spotted Joanne wading along the bank a few yards up stream. Ken was on the road standing by his truck when we went by, and said he had three, two rainbows and a brookie on a white woolly bugger. He reported that, except for Lou who had landed five on a dropper rig of a big dry trailing a hare’s ear, or Partridge and herl fished weightless, the fish always taking the dropper, everyone else had, like me, only scrounged one maybe two.
Heading back to the river after checking in at the Inn, we stopped along the road for a quick update with Dave Simms and Ken, who decided to join Tim and me fishing the lower section for the remainder of the afternoon and evening. Since this river runs north, the lower section is up near the Pennsylvania line. Tim and I got there first and began wading downstream to a good bend in the river where we could see a long seam on the inside of the bend. It was tough wading, the water was almost waist deep right next to the bank and the brush was right up to the water’s edge. Picking my way down through a tangle of roots, dead sticks, and slick rocks while holding on to streamside brush I turned to warn Tim that this looked like a damn good place to take a dunking, when, bloosh!, down he went.
Continuing on while Tim returned to the truck, I finally got down to the seam by abandoning the river to skirt a deep hole and bushwhacking along the bank. The trills of multi-flora and other bits of brush stole my hat, grabbed at my fly line tangling up in the tip of my rod; my cursing should have made the weeds blush. Looking back up stream up I could see Ken and Dave were up by the bridge.
By late afternoon heavy squalls of caddis would course up river in bursts that would last several minutes before dying down then start again. With all this bug activity and I didn’t see one rise on that bend, and the only fish I hooked I lost on the same wet fly fished weighted and dead drifted.
Late afternoon we all were up around the deep hole by the bridge. I could hear a clomping and looked up to see Mennonite buggy coming across. I was too slow to get a picture but was ready the next time and got a few good shots of the next one with Tim in the foreground. Photography dovetails perfectly with fly fishing and on occasions like these can be a brief respite from fruitless casting. Ken and I were fishing the opposite sides of the deep pool just upstream of the bridge and began getting little hits on a simple three hackle at the end of his drifts, finally teasing a nice brown to commit. This prompted me to change to a three hackle also and fishing blind water was rewarded with a nice brown of my own that took the fly just inches off the bank where a small indention created a hole of slower water.
We had said we were going to fish until dark, but with 30 minutes of light left Tim, Ken, Dave and I were slowly moseying back up the road to the trucks, oohing and awing along the way at the sky designs the sun was making bursting through some gathering clouds. Leaving turned out to be a huge mistake. On the way out I saw Lou attempting to wade across the river and got the camera ready to capture any mishap, but despite all my encouragement he remained upright the whole trip. After we had ordered and eaten and were wondering where the rest of the crew was, Bob, Joan, then Pete and Pat, ambled in to regale us with frenzied last minutes of fishing while we listened. Normally, listening to stories of the fish rising freely to take all offerings after I had left the stream too early would have had me kicking myself. But… a hard week, the long drive up and the pounding water had taken its toll, on me at least, and I was content to just sit and listen to their successes. And, for some tough fishing, there were some pretty good outcomes for the day. Tim, Bob, Joan, and Pat all caught 10 or more, Pete and Lou, between 5 and 10, all the rest of us a fish or four. I’ve gone further for less.
I know I was tired because I fell asleep propped up watching TV. The next thing I knew the town’s emergency siren was blaring around 4 am and kept blaring for several minutes forcing me to eventually get up to make sure we weren’t on fire before turning off the TV and going back to sleep. Big wreck on I68 was what I heard later.
Stepping out into the day I could see it had rained some overnight and had me wondering about water clarity. At supper, the night before, we decided to meet back at the Ridge for breakfast and it was a good choice. Flap jacks smothered in butter and drenched in syrup. Eggs piled high on mounds of fried potatoes with biscuits on the side. No bloody diets or guilty moments on these forays! I had the big platter; sausage gravy over toast, a mound of fried potatoes with two eggs on top. I later wished I had ordered extra bacon.
Leaving the truck stop the sky looked threatening off to the North West and we were wondering if we were going to fish at all. The water at Penn Alps looked okay so we suited up. Whatever the rain the night before, the river level had actually dropped some I think. It was still rushing and gushing but crossable in places I’m not sure I would have crossed the day before. Moving downstream of the old stone bridge I plucked two browns right off the bank with a small brown crystal bugger. The first one I thought I was snagged on a wrist sized limb held against the bank by the current but a splashing brown emerged as I kept pressure on the rod.
Ken got one and lost one on a Pink San Juan; Tim got a couple as well, at least one in the swimming hole - can’t recall the fly. There is an old dead tree trunk next to this pool that always catches my attention. It’s so eaten up with woodpecker holes it’s eventually just got to collapse from lack of support. By this time it was clouding up for rain. Ken decided to roll out ahead of it, Tim and I weren’t far behind. We met Pat and Pete, who were going to give it a go, in the parking lot but I never heard how well they did.
Western Maryland in late April never disappoints, even when the fishing is tough. I grew up an Iowa flatlander, before the era slick magazines. These spring trips always remind me of those gaudy but charming old pictures on the calendars the local gas stations used to give away; visions of mountain streams flowing through little hamlets their church steeples rising out of valleys, surrounding fields full of wild flowers and grazing cattle, timbered mountainside rising up to kiss the sky. If you haven’t joined us on any of these outings, spring and fall you should give it some thought.
© Potomac-Patuxent Chapter of Trout Unlimited 1999-2017
P.O. Box 2865 Wheaton, MD 20915
This document last modified 05/11/11