If the outings had a theme, pleasant weather and stunning color would have been this year’s. The mornings were cold, 41 degrees, and waking up snug in our bags we lingered a few moments before rising devising quick action plans in gathering clothes and getting them on. By late morning summer was back on the attack, temperatures rising into the high seventies under the bluest of skies, forcing us out of jackets and long sleeves and into T shirts and applying sun screen.
Bright sunlight illuminated the dying canopy of yellows, reds and oranges that covered the mountain sides; the leaves floating down in small showers lining the roads. There must have been an explosion of wild turkeys in the area. Everyone was reporting sightings of birds all weekend, leisurely feeding on the hillsides or standing out on the road.
Our first stop was the North Branch of the Potomac at sunrise on Friday morning. Hiking up to the upper wire we set up over some pools that in the past have held many large fish. Although the numbers of these large fish have seemed to be on the decline since we have been fishing this area, this is the first year we saw no big fish. I pounded the water with a variety of offerings and after several hours came up empty. The first and only fish I saw caught before lunch was on my way back to the parking lot where Pete Masler was just landing a small brown at the lower wire taken on a #14 Copper John.
Getting back to the parking lot to grill some dogs, we had a brief howdy moment with the group staying in one of the cabins at Savage River outfitters. Then after lunch we spread out between the wires for another go. Comparing notes later, it was apparent that the upper section held a good number of fish in the 7 to 10 inch range, and from at least one comment the San Juan worm was performing well on them.
Quitting around 5pm we headed to Big Run to set up camp before it got too dark. Ken Bowyer, Steve Graves, Steve Fletcher, and Nick Weber later joined campers Tim Bowers, Mike Abramowitz, Will Amland, Pete and Pat Masler, and myself for supper. With tents up, a fire in the hearth, and deer chili simmering in the pot, things got down right festive.
Months ago I promised to show Tim the upper Savage on the next outing. Driving over and parking at the intersection of Savage River and Westernport roads we headed up stream. I had only been there once, but thought I remembered where there were some good stretches of water with a few pools. After an hour of bushwhacking upstream I said “I think we’re almost there”, Tim, sweaty and batting away some brush, said “good!” “I know there has to be some great water at the end of this rainbow to go through all of this”. Ten minutes and several bends in the creek later I said, “Ya know what?”, “I think I’m lost”. “Well not exactly lost, just up a feeder stream and not on the main stem”. Bushwhacking our way back down stream we found the main stem and Tim playing the good sport we continued on. This time it paid off and we found the section of water I was looking for, and while partially choked with leaves it did hold some fish.
We were getting some small ones; some not even brookies, but a minnow of some type with a bright red slash on both sides like someone had used a magic marker on them. I had released one nice little brookie when a much better fish struck my simple three hackle bobbing amongst the leaves. I had my little Hardy set on its lowest setting and this guy was peeling off yards line. Slowly bringing him back after three such runs I decided he was ready. Getting the net down I found I couldn’t raise the rod high enough to bring him in close enough to net because of the branches I was stooped under. What these small stream brookies lack in selectivity they more than make up for in placing me in practically impossible places to cast to or land them from.
Trying to duck walk sideways stooped over, while keeping the fish from tangling in whatever, I finally found a place where I could get the rod a little bit higher, but still needed to reel the leader inside the guides to get him close enough. I tried to drag him closer and scoop him up in one motion which put more pressure on the leader and with a little snap the hook just popped out! For an instant he just lay there, but I was stretched to the limit and off balance, and before I could reposition my weight to reach him he was gone.
There probably isn’t any rational reason to feel that bummed out over losing such a small fish, but this was a brook trout, who in my opinion share the same qualities as woodcock, something truly wild and beautiful, and this one was exceptional, better than any I’ve caught.
Ken Bowyer once told me that if you get the leader inside the top guide you’ve landed the fish. Well, that’s something to grab onto I guess, but it’s still not a picture you can pull up and admire.
Running into the Cabin group at the PhD Pool later that afternoon, Ken said he had gotten a couple of brookies downstream, and then taken a swim which is required of someone on every October outing. Thanks for the sacrifice ole buddy. Ken also reported that Bubba Fletcher had taken a particularly nice brookie out of the PHD earlier. So, all dressed up with no place else to go, Me, Tim, and Mike, and Nick finished out the afternoon right there, unsuccessfully trying to match whatever it was those fish were rising to.
Sunday had us all on the NB again. We fished it all day and the best fish I saw was the 16 inch rainbow I foul hooked in the tail while drifting an egg pattern. The only big fish sighting was the big brown that chased Ken’s grasshopper in a pool down in the put and take section below the bridge pilings. Otherwise it was those numerous small guys taken by just about everyone.
Monday morning it was just me and Tim left at the camp. We made coffee and had breakfast by the fire before breaking down our tents, stowing the gear, and policing the area for trash.
We decided to fish the pocket water below the dam, and except for one other guy the stream looked pretty much empty of fishermen. I threw everything from caddis to beetles, San Juans to beadheads, before finally getting a fat brookie on a #18 flashback pheasant tail. Back at the parking lot Tim said he got his best fish of the outing, a 14 inch brown that rose to a #16 Elk hair caddis.
We didn’t catch a lot of fish but I think everyone caught some, As far as I know, Tim’s 14 incher was the largest fair caught fish, and Pete who had to leave early sent me a report saying he found some dry fly action landing 3 rainbows. Will and Mike also got a half dozen fish between them using top water caddis; so as the kids say, “it’s all good”. The weather and water was beautiful, and the bugs were out, just no one was really able to crack the code, leaving us all somewhat perplexed, which is exactly what makes fly fishing all so interesting.
Those of us left Sunday morning voted unanimously to do it again next year. The only change is camping for 2 nights instead of 3. This morning I called and reserved the pavilion for next year’s outing, camping Friday and Saturday nights October 9th & 10th.