Catoctin Mountain National Park, Maryland, February 9, 2009
It was going to be another unusually warm day in February so I decided to take advantage of the great weather to try my luck fishing for brookies at Big Hunting Creek.

Located in
Cunningham Falls State Park and the Catoctin Mountain National Park, this small freestone creek is famous for a number of 'firsts' in Maryland. It was the first stream in the state to be stocked with trout, the first designated as a fly-fishing-only and the first catch-and-release trout fishing area. According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, "all stocking upstream of Cunningham Falls Reservoir was discontinued in 1975 to encourage the development of the wild trout." Efforts to manage the wild trout population began in 1977 with the reduction of stocked trout to only 1,000 brook and rainbow trout annually and an end to the stocking of brown trout. A comprehensive fishery management plan was developed during 1993 between the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Cunningham Falls State Park, Catoctin Mountain National Park and other interested parties who share an interest in the welfare of Big Hunting Creek.

There are many parking areas available for anglers and I picked one about 300-yards beyond the ranger station. After gearing up it was a short (30-yards) walk to the water and with the sun striking the creek and the air beginning to warm up, there was a good deal of insect life buzzing about. In fact, although it was a feeding bonanza for the fish, it became a bit irritating to have those small flying critters streamside because they'd land on me and begin crawling down the back of my neck or into my ear as I was casting or tying on a new fly. But it was food to the fish and they were hungry.
I wanted to cover as much water as possible so I would put out a few casts and if there were no strikes I would push on upstream. Big Hunting Creek is very narrow and shallow, but the fish are there. Rather than walk right up to the water and begin fishing, I stood well back in the trees and watched the water. After a few minutes I saw little disturbance rings appear on top of the water which meant there were trout below, sipping on whatever was floating downstream. After pinpointing the rise, I would drop a fly into the current and carefully steer it right into the area where the fish were taking the bugs.

Size also made a difference. The most productive fly was a size 22 parachute
Pale Morning Dun. I tried upsizing to see if anything larger would stimulate a stronger feeding reaction. Size 16 and 18 drew no strikes but when I switched back to the size 22, I got some serious bites.

There's that old saying, "Never leave fish to find fish." I spent nearly two hours working a rather shallow section of the stream that held a good number of nice
brook trout feeding on top. I began by blowing four hook sets in a row. Not good. Too anxious. I was pulling the fly right out of their mouths. After the commotion, I had to wait a bit until they calmed down and began feeding again before I could make another cast. It was just amazing how many trout were in an area that was about 40-yards long and 12-feet wide but it was a great place to spend a good portion of what turned out to be a very nice day fishing.

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 that tapered down to 3-feet of 7X tippet (so 15-feet overall length). Small flies and very gentle presentations.

DIRECTIONS: From Virginia it's Route 15 north (to Gettysburg). You'll see signs saying your in the Catoctin Mountain National 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 then after you pass the ranger station it will appear on your left. Park and fish.