Garrett County, Maryland, October 23, 2009
There are many great fly fishing streams scattered across Maryland and the Savage River is considered by many to be one of the top five trout streams in the state but essential repairs to a reservoir threatens to damage the existing trophy trout fishery for several years.
Four release gates on the Savage River Reservoir must be replaced and the water behind the dam must be drained before work on this $6 million repair project can begin. The new gates are expected to be delivered around Nov.1 and at that time workers will begin replacing the two upstream gates although the downstream gates won't be replaced until the reservoir is fully drained.
Fisheries officials hope there will be little impact on the trophy trout areas but officials at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources say there can be no guarantee. Most of the repair work will be done during the winter to minimize water temperature effects on resident trout after the reservoir is drained and water flow is at its minimum but there are still possible problems from the release of sediment and other fish species like largemouth bass, catfish, and pike into the river.
An earlier plan by the fish and game to electroshock, capture and relocate brown and brook trout to other waters during the construction period is no longer being considered. According to a Maryland 2002 fish and game trout population survey it's estimated that there are more than 1,000 wild adult trout per mile (all species) and that there are about 150 brown trout greater than 12 inches per mile and 37 brook trout greater than nine inches per mile.
This tailwater fishery began in 1952 with the completion of the Savage River Reservoir dam. In 1982 the Maryland Department of Natural Resources documented naturally reproducing brook trout in the river and soon after new water release procedures were enacted to insure optimum habitat conditions. In 1987 all put and take stocking of hatchery rainbow trout from the dam to 4 miles downstream was ended and the Savage was managed as a wild trout fishery.Since this was the first time I fished here I began at the bottom of Savage River Road and slowly drove uphill, scouting the river along the way.
I stopped at the reservoir and got out of the car to look around a bit. Workers and cranes were busy setting up for the gate repairs and it was quite evident that lots of water has already been drained from the reservoir. The upper sections of the reservoir were dry or just barely covered with water. The boat ramp looked like it was still operational but who knows how long that will be. If you want to fish for some of those bass or pike, you should consider doing it soon. To access this ramp enter the driveway (on your right as you're driving uphill) just before you reach the face of the dam.
I didn't want to waste the whole day poking around the reservoir so I spun the car around and headed downstream to find trout. Parking areas along the road are easy to find and the popular spots are well marked by tire tracks and boot prints heading off towards the water. After wadering up I headed for the river.
There are two essential pieces of gear you MUST bring with you when wading and fishing the Savage River--a wading staff and lug soled boots with cleats or spikes. The rocks are snot slippery and after five minutes I found myself sitting on my butt in the river despite having a staff AND heavily lugged boots with spikes. Luckily it was only a few inches deep. The first thing I did was make sure all the limbs were working properly and the second was to see if anyone was around and if they saw me fall in. It wasn't much of a fall, almost like a quick sit-down in the river. A bit embarrassing but a cheap lesson on watching where you wade on the Savage. Better to fall in shallow water than to take a header in the deep end. Good thing I have a lot of padding on my landing area. After getting back up I checked the rocks and they were all smooth and covered with thick green algae. Did I mention they were slippery?

I fished upstream towards the dam. The slippery river bottom was a problem but the air was cool and the trees were breaking out in their Fall colors. There was a heavy overcast and an occasional sprinkle of rain would make its way through the canopy but overall it was a pretty decent day to fish on this spectacular river.

Other anglers told me the optimum flow for the best fishing on the Savage River is between 50 to 130 cfs but during my visit it was
flowing between 246 and at some points close to 300 cfs. Water release fluctuated throughout the day and you could tell how high or how low the water was running by looking at the damp areas on rocks or debris in the river. In one area I fished a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) employee was taking water measurements off a gauge for about an hour. In that time the water level fell about 6 inches and fishing was pretty good. However 45 minutes later the water level was up--covering over the low water mark on nearby boulders. At this point fishing also tapered off so I moved downstream to fish at the Allegany (Garrett) suspension bridge.
Another angler had just pulled into the parking lot so I asked him where he intended to fish. He told me he spotted some rising fish and pointed to the spot where spreading rings of water indicated the presence of sipping trout. I wished him luck, quickly geared up and crossed the bridge and began walking upstream along a wide pathway that ran parallel to the river. It was an easy walk and I covered lots of ground but eventually the path was blocked by a pair of large trees that probably toppled over during a recent storm so I decided to fish back downstream from this spot.

Fish were holding in all the usual trout locations and I had good luck indicator fishing with a size 14 Tom Baltz bronzeback nymph, a size 14 Montana Mud Snake and a size 16 flashback pheasant tail with a size 24 black caddis emerger as a dropper. But these were smart trout. If you missed the take, forget about recasting for another try. Once they saw the fly and either rejected it or you missed, there is no second chance using the same fly. I found that resting the water and tying a different pattern on usually drew another strike but again, you only have one chance. After missing and trying a new fly, if the trout isn't interested after two drifts forget it and move on.
I returned to the suspension bridge just as the other angler was also leaving the water. He managed to get a few browns to play but couldn't land them. He did bring a rainbow and brookie to hand so it wasn't all bad. He was strictly a dry fly guy and said he wasn't into nymphing (as he eyed the indicator twisted on my leader). He fishes the Savage River often and gave me some tips on where to go and what to use--useful information which I'll probably try on another trip. He was somewhat ambivalent about the coming changes to the river. He looked forward to the possibility of fishing for bass and pike in the river, but was somewhat resigned to the fact that the Savage River trout fishery would be damaged by the low water. He also felt some silt coming downstream from the dam would be beneficial for the river and if it wasn't too heavy would provide surviving trout with new areas to spawn. However he thinks it will take three to five years for the Savage River to recover after the dam is repaired and the water flow is restored.

By this time it was late in the afternoon and the sky began to darken so I decided to head for home, following Savage River Road along the back side of the reservoir and getting on New Germany Road then back to the highway. This was a much more scenic route than coming in from the bottom of Savage River Road but it's also a bit more dangerous. The road is narrow and there were numerous large blood splatters on the road and lots of dead forest critters and car parts. Judging from the size of the blood smears and the remains of some animals, the collisions between vehicle and critter were horrendous so be very careful if you're approaching the Savage River using the upper road.

DIRECTIONS: The Savage River is a fly fishing only trophy trout management area from the Savage River Reservoir downstream 1.25 miles to the suspension bridge. From the bridge downstream it's a trophy trout management area restricted to the use of artificial lures or flies and runs downstream for 2.75 miles.
Upper route: From I-68 take Exit 22; turn left onto Chestnut Ridge Road. Continue to stop sign and turn left onto New Germany Road. Go about 5 miles and turn left onto Big Run Road. Follow Big Run Road and turn right onto Savage River Road. Continue around the Savage River Reservoir to the Savage River Tailwater below the dam.

Lower route: From I-68 exit to 36 (New Georges Creek Road SW), right onto Pratt Street 46/135 pass the paper mill then left onto Bloomington Road drive a very short distance then a right (look carefully for the sign) onto Savage River Road.
EQUIPMENT: I used a 4-weight rod and floating line. Various nymphs from size 16 to 24 worked. Check your streamside bugs (above and below the water) and match the hatch. These are educated trout. If they strike and miss (or you do) you will not get another chance using the same fly.