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Fly Fishing the Chesapeake Region Part I: Spring Creeks

When anglers talk about planning their next fly fishing trip in the U.S. many of the first regions that comes to mind are usually Alaska and the North West for trout and salmon, the Gulf for Redfish and Spotted Sea Trout, and possibly the North East for Atlantic Salmon and Striped Bass. Many overlook the Mid-Atlantic region and I can’t understand why.

I recently took a trip back to Maryland to see family and friends, and while there I took advantage of the great fishing opportunities available in the Chesapeake Bay region. My first stop was to the small creeks around the town I grew up in. Small spring creeks surrounded by lush forest and a variety of wildlife, exposing granite boulders in the stream bed and filled with a variety of fish species. Most of these creeks have been continuously stock with brown and rainbow trout for decades, and although the region is too warm for the rainbows to survive, the brown trout make it through the hot summers and are able to reproduce to a small extent.

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The trout fishing is good but the real reason I brought my gear back this time of year was for the bass fishing opportunities. The smallmouth fishing in the Baltimore/Washington area is world class, with the Susquehanna and the Potomac plus many of the local reservoirs having healthy, reproducing fish populations that produce trophies every year.

I didn’t pull out any trophies nor did I expect to. This trip was just to relax, to go back to the pools and runs where I taught myself to fly fish and look at the water with a new perspective. I headed to a little spring creek in Carrol County called Morgan Run, it starts up around Westminster, Maryland off route 97 and runs into Liberty Reservoir in Finksburg. I took my trusty Ross Essence FC 8’6” 5 weight and when I first got there I tied on a couple of nymphs and threw into a pool with a few trout in it. These fish were stocked about two months back so they weren’t all that difficult to fool. I quickly pulled out a few trout and then headed up stream. I was on a mission to what we call “the honey hole”.

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I approached the hole and I instantly saw a smallmouth sitting behind a pile of sticks, maneuvering left and right, eating anything that floats its way. I was looking for large aggressive fish so I switched over to a white articulated minnow pattern. I threw it about 10 feet above it and started to strip it in. It didn’t budge, so I tossed it again, and again with the same result. I knew there were larger fish in here so I decided to try up around the large bolder laying in the creek. With the first retrieve I saw both trout and bass following it, none of them committed though so I tossed it in again and slowed down the retrieve, “BAM” something came up and slammed it. By the way it was fighting I could tell it was a bass, it was way too aggressive to be any of the trout that I would expect to be in this spot and as I worked it in my assumptions was correct. It was a bass, a decent one for the size of the creek; I reeled it in, took a few shots and quickly released it.

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After being rewarded with that nice bass I decided to start my way back and run that streamer through some of the runs and pools I nymphed earlier. I managed to get a few more follows with some trout in the pools but as I was approaching the trailhead I saw a deep run with two small boulders leaning into it. I threw between the two boulders and as soon as it had become fully submerged “WHAM”, a bass had ran from one boulder to the other and sliced it! Knowing I might have one more chance at it, I waited a minute before I attempted it again, took a breath and tossed it at the back of the run in-between the two boulders. Gave it a few twitches and “BAM” he took it! I noticed that was a good spot for the little guy as I saw two dead minnows, a little larger than my streamer, float out from under the boulder he ran under after eating my fly. I was a little impressed it was still so aggressive even after having a full stomach. I released him back into the run and started my way back down the trail.

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I couldn’t have asked for a better day, an easy hike through a thick forest and got into a variety of fish that were a blast on the old 5 weight. I got back to the car and headed home. This trip out was exactly what I was looking for, back on one of the old creeks where I taught myself how to fly fish, taking what I have learned in the years I have been gone and seeing what I could come up with.

I know I may be a little biased in my love for fishing this area but there are many overlooked fisheries and a variety of species from small to large mouth bass, pickerel and musky, multiple trout species fresh and saltwater variety, the opportunities are almost endless. If you haven’t already, next time you get some free time do a little research on some of the local fisheries around the Chesapeake Region and stay tuned for Part Two where I will write about my first Striped Bass trip on the Susquehanna Flats!

The Madness of Fly Fishing

“Sometimes I caught fish – sometimes I didn’t. …….I lived merrily, mindlessly, uncomfortably on the fringe where fishing bleeds into madness.” – Nick Lyons, The Intense Fly Fisherman

There was a time in my youth when I chased fish with all the passion I had within me – with all the force and vigor and excitement I could muster. I would get up two hours before dawn and drive four hours just to reach the first available trout water. I’d fish all day, stopping only to eat a quick lunch or move to another spot on the river. When darkness fell, I continued to fish – pushing the limit of effective fishing and the legal limit of fishing regulations. A four hour drive back home would end with me dragging myself into the house, leaving all my gear in the truck to be cleaned out the next day, or the day after that perhaps. I was “on fire” for fly fishing and I ate it – drank it – obsessed over it – loved it – was consumed by it. 

 

This went on for some time. Years passed, then decades and then one day I experienced a great tragedy in my life when my father passed away suddenly. At the same time, I lost my job. I was devastated. I stopped fishing almost completely. I think I may have spent time fishing, just a few hours each time, only twice that year. In my salad days fishing happened every other weekend for years and years. I fished only twice in that most terrible year and thought several times that I might give it up altogether. Over the next few years, there were times when I felt like flinging my rod and reel into the lake or river. No, I’m not kidding. I just couldn’t get that passion back, even though when I wasn’t fishing it was still there and as strong as ever.

 

I still consumed fishing articles, photos and chat like they were going out of style. I loved to talk about bass on poppers and trout flies that sit just so, right in the film. I’m still a sucker for hearing  another angler talk about a river that’s new to me. Last year I even took my very first trip out west to fish in Montana and Wyoming. I’m fishing more now – probably twice a month or so when I can get away and I’d fish more often if I had the time and money. So, I had to ask myself – what happened? How did I come back from the brink of leaving the sport behind me for good?

I think what it all came down to, was that I had to realize two things: that I didn’t have that 24-hour-7-days-a-week passion that I had in my youth, and that not having that passion was OK. Once I stopped worrying about the fact that I didn’t go fishing as much (and frankly didn’t catch as much either) I was able to begin to enjoy my time outdoors again. These days it’s not so much about the fishing. It’s more about being outside and enjoying time spent around the water. It’s the feel of the river on my legs and the fleeting glimpse of a deer on the drive home. Now that I’ve had a couple of years of this relaxed fishing life, I think I rather prefer it to living on, as Nick Lyons so accurately put it …the fringe where fishing bleeds into madness.” Maybe someday you’ll be there, too. Maybe you already are?

Catching the Spring Creeks Off Guard

Should a Woolly Bugger kind-of-guy celebrate March Madness in Paradise Valley at a BWO hatch?

I used to look forward to a week of skiing in Montana at the end of every March.  And somewhere along the line, probably as I passed through Livingston –  with the sun shining and the Yellowstone River underneath the Interstate – I got to wondering about the fishing.

As it turns out, it’s pretty darn good.  The crowds are gone, the rivers are in good shape –  ‘cause it’s pre-runoff  – and the temperature is likely to be 50 or 60 degrees.

So a few weeks ago, on our way to ski, my girlfriend and I stopped by the Yellowstone Angler in Livingston.  They pointed us toward Armstrong’s Spring Creek and stuffed our fly box with egg imitations, BWO’s, and midges.

A day on Armstrong’s during the height of the summer PMD hatch means booking a year in advance and paying a $100 rod fee.  We got there on a gorgeous Sunday morning and paid the off-season rate of $40.  And had the river all to ourselves.  All the snow was on the ski hill and would have to wait…

I have to admit.  I was a little apprehensive.  Spring creeks and their technical, flat water are a bit of a mecca for small fly gurus.  But I’m no small fly guru.  To me, finesse is replacing the big split shot under my indicator with a small split shot.

Nevertheless, for every flat water glide, there was a deeper, rumpled run.  A 20 mile per hour wind was keeping the BWO hatch at bay.  We tied on indicators, beadhead zebra midges underneath eggs, and a split shot.  I must have been in finesse mode; it was a small indicator and a tiny split shot.

There were six or seven browns and rainbows in those deeper, rumpled runs that definitely wanted to play.  The browns smacked the eggs and the rainbows sucked in the midges.  The browns bent the rods double and went deep.  A couple ‘bows did cartwheels.   The biggest fish was a solid 16 inches.  Not a spectacular day’s fishing, but extremely satisfying.  Especially when fishing back home would be not much more than gazing at an eight inch hole in the ice.

Next year, we may just forget about the skiing altogether…

(We actually spent the next day wading the big, broad Yellowstone River.  There were risers in the slack water by the bank as we pulled up.  I was eager to work on my small fly skills but a 30 mile per hour wind came up and ended the hatch.  So back to an indicator rig with zebra midges and small pheasant tails.  A few eager rainbows and cutthroats soon found our flies.  Unfortunately, after a couple hours, the wind started to feel like a gale and it was time to quit.  Or at least think about going skiing.)

The Best Advice

“One final paragraph of advice: Do not burn yourself out. Be as I am-a reluctant enthusiast… a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it is still there. So get out there and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains. Run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to your body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much: I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those deskbound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: you will outlive the bastards.” ― Edward Abbey