Catoctin Mountain Park, Thurmont, Maryland, May 11, 2012
I had a lot of time to fish today so I decided to hit Big Hunting Creek in Catoctin Mountain Park and fish it from bottom to top.
I started as close to the trailer park area as I could, below the entrance sign to the park and above the sign that warns everyone that you are about to enter private property. It was a beautiful day and the sun was just starting to peek through the trees as I finished rigging up a 3 weight rod to begin fishing.
As an experiment I decided to limit myself to one size and type of fly for the day--a size 18 Tom Baltz para-nymph tied with a red post. It wasn't a random choice because even though it was early morning, there was a lot of insect life buzzing around and the average size seemed to be reasonably close to size 18 and something lying flush in the film always fished better here than a heavily hackled fly floating on top. Tiny nymphs would probably have worked better but I wanted to fish the dry.
I slowly worked my way upstream, fishing the usual spots where a trout might lurk and I got a few. I also missed some by forgetting to say "God save the Queen" and yanking the fly out of the trout's mouth. I moved quickly, getting a few good drifts in before moving up to the next pool. There was a lot of water to cover and I didn't want to stick around in one area too long. If I got a fish, then fine. If nothing bit after a couple of casts then it was time to move on. After reaching the car I would drive up the road a couple hundred yards then walk downhill along the road before hiking down to the creek and fishing back up to the vehicle. I would repeat this process as I moved up the mountain.
I bumped into a few anglers and all of them reported having a slow day. One of them, Bob, was using a Tenkara rod and had nicked a trout but he said fishing overall wasn't that hot and he was only here to try his new toy. Tenkara fishing is the newest hot thing in fly fishing and these rods are perfectly suited for the small streams and tight casting conditions on the East Coast. Some people think these rods are too delicate for anything more than tiny trout but they’re capable of handling large fish as I discovered a few years ago while fishing for Peacock Bass at Lake Wilson in Hawaii. Bob and I traded fishing stories and swapped a few flies before I continued upstream.
I fished to risers at a big elbow pool but it was tough. These trout were cruisers and they didn't rise in one spot so trying to land a fly in front of them was just about impossible. They swam in a totally random pattern and were feeding on something in the film and not on top. I finally gave up and moved on towards the Joe Brooks memorial where I found a bunch of risers who were coming up consistently in one area. A couple of the fish floated up under the fly and gave it a good long look before sinking back to the bottom while others struck the fly. But maybe I overdosed on shad fishing because I yanked back on the line too quickly and jerked the fly out of their mouths. After doing that I would watch the fish dart back and forth, swim in circles, then settle back to the bottom. About 10 minutes later they would go back to feeding and we'd begin the whole process again.
But trout wasn’t the only thing I found in this area. I heard didymo, an invasive algae, had been discovered in the creek and the reports were true. The bottom of the creek below the Joe Brooks memorial was covered with didymo. It has not yet formed the thick mats but it is there and growing. What this means for a fishery like Big Hunting Creek can’t be good. I saw how thick didymo can get when I fished the Gunpowder River at Masemore Bridge a few years ago and it was horrible.
I was getting hungry and kept thinking of the cold fried chicken, apple slices, soft drink and Snickers bar sitting in a cooler back at my car so after watching park rangers refill a wader wash station and missing one more trout I headed back to the car for a very late lunch. I set up the picnic on the hood of the car and as I ate I read the various notices posted on a bulletin board. There were the usual notices about Big Hunting Creek being catch and release water and a note about felt sole wading shoes being banned for use in Maryland. A couple were about conservation and not littering in the park. The notices that really stood out were warnings about various species of venomous snakes in the park (with pictures) and potentially dangerous wild animals. Right next to the placards was a hand-drawn and lettered map to the nearest local hospital. Nice.
After finishing off lunch and directing some hikers to the ranger station I soaked down and scrubbed my waders and shoes thoroughly with a brine solution at a cleaning station then took off for Beaver Creek in Washington County.
EQUIPMENT: I used a 8' 9" 3 weight rod with weight-froward floating line, but not much of the line was out of the tip of the rod. I used a leader that was 12-feet long tapered down to 3-feet of 7X tippet (so 15-feet overall length). I used a size 18 para-nymph for the entire session.
DIRECTIONS: From Virginia it's Route 15 north (to Gettysburg). You'll see signs saying you’re in the Catoctin Mountain Park. Take the left exit in Thurmont to Route 77 west then onto Foxville Road into the park. You will see the creek on your right and after you pass the ranger station it will appear on your left. Park at any marked pull-off and fish.