Catoctin Mountains National Park, October 9, 2009
After being skunked at Fishing Creek and Little Fishing Creek I decided to try my luck at Big Hunting Creek.

I quickly found a parking spot and was soon heading down a familiar path to the water. I stopped 20-yards short of my intended fishing spot to see if there was any activity on the water. I sat and watched. The water was clear but extremely low. I fished the creek
several times this past year but this was the lowest I'd ever seen. Areas that were normally underwater now had grass, vines or small trees sprouting among what used to be the bottom of the creek. I assumed they were conserving water for the coming winter and had turned down the flow out of the dam.

After 10 minutes I saw a truly beautiful sight--the surface of the water dimpled by several trout feeding in the slow current. Time to fish.

I lengthened the tippet and tied on a size 24 dry that approximated the size and color of the insects fluttering around in the 80-degree air. Using the trees as a screen I approached the trout from a downstream position and began to cast to rising fish.

With the water so clear and low I could see a very decent brook trout finning in a tail-down, head-up position tight against the trunk of a tree that jutted out into the current. The fish was positioned in a great location because the water was forced around the trunk and everything edible had to pass directly over his spot. It took several casts to get the fly in the sweet spot. This was a fussy fish and it did not want to move out of its feeding lane. It had to come right over the top. As the fly approached I could see it slowly begin to rise. Pectoral fin activity increased as it neared the surface to position it to take the fly. With the fly only inches away the nose of the trout touched the surface. It took a good, long look at my offering then slowly sank back down to reassume its position next to the tree trunk. Stupid fish.

I tried other flies in various sizes but had no luck. I found it amazing that I spent so much time and effort trying on this fish when there were at least a half dozen others rising and feeding a few yards further downstream. As I was tying on yet another fly I'd hear the "bloop" sound and quickly look up to see a spreading ring of water where another tasty morsel was plucked off the surface by a hungry trout. But they were not MY trout. The one I wanted was floating next to the tree. So the madness continued.

Fishing was interrupted by another angler making his way upstream. He used to live in the area and was now retired and living in North Carolina. He was visiting his daughter and had some free time to fish and Big Hunting Creek was his favorite fishing spot. He asked me what happened to all the water and that sort of reinforced my notion that something was not right. He speculated that it might be a drought. He had lived a few minutes away and had fished here often for 20-plus years and had never seen the water this low. We traded some fishing intel then he made his way further upstream to fish a large elbow pool while I decided to move downstream to a deep pool that I knew usually held some large fish.
The water was really low. Under normal conditions it was so deep you could not easily see the bottom of the pool unless the sun was in the right position but now everything was exposed and the fish were very anxious. Tree roots dangled in the air. An undercut that usually sheltered some very large and health wild brookies was now three feet above the surface of the creek. Again I approached carefully, using the trees for cover as I came up on the pool. I saw about eight decent fish in the pool but all of them were on high alert and would dart for cover if they saw any movement near the bank or if a leaf fell into the pool. This was going to be tough.

I tied on a tiny black caddis and threw a cast from behind the tree. It landed softly about midway out in the pool and one of the smallish cruising brookies immediately turned and headed for the fly and inhaled it. Forgetting to say,
"God save the Queen" I quickly yanked the fly right out of its mouth, sending it fleeing in panic and causing every trout in that pool to dive for cover. That was it. Game over. And besides it was time for me to start heading home so I stood there for awhile watching frightened fish dart from rock to rock as I slowly strung up my rod to begin the hike back to the car.

EQUIPMENT: I used a 8' 9" 3-weight rod with weight-forward 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.