Washington County, Maryland, January 15, 2010
It was like attending a trout fishing school but in this case it was the fish that were doing all the instructing.

The unusually cold weather that had been lingering in the area for the past few weeks cleared out on Friday and with some free time available I decided to fly fish for a few hour at Beaver Creek. The sky was clear and the sun was out in force as I pulled into the parking lot on Beaver Creek Road around 9am. I was surprised to find only one other angler there, thinking that the nice weather would draw other fishers out of their winter hibernation. But in the back of my mind I was thinking, "This is great--the whole place to myself!"

I walked down to the creek but kept well back from the bank as I checked out the water. The winter sun rises low in the sky and on this portion of Beaver Creek and you have the sun on your back, throwing a large shadow out over the water which will spook trout. The best way to approach the creek is to find a tree that is about the right width of your body (in my case that's a pretty substantial tree), stand in the tree's shadow and approach the water. There will be no massive, moving new shadow that will send trout running for cover.

The water was low, moving slow and very clear. There was a wood jam off to my right and this pile of dead tree limbs had forced the current to carve out a deep trench but the water was so low and clear that you could see everything on the bottom of the creek and it looked like a fishless wasteland. Tough fishing conditions. I began by tossing a streamer into the first large pool and slowly covered water. Most of the times I've fished Beaver Creek the streamer was the fly of choice but after flailing away for 20 minutes I didn't even draw a look or a snag. I decided to switch tactics and clipped off the streamer and set up the line with
an indicator, shot and a nymph.

The charge was sudden and unexpected and it caught me off guard. Using a side-arm cast to keep the rod from waving over the water I flicked the indie rig up past the wood jam and let it fall with a soft plop. Through the clear water I could track the slow fall of the nymph as it sank below the indicator. Suddenly from under the wood pile a large dark shape rushed the fly and grabbed it. I was stunned by its appearance. I tried to set the hook but it had already spit the fly and I had a momentary tightness on the line but I was too late. The fish quickly turned and ducked back under cover.

I pulled line in and recast, but the fish never came back and that's pretty much how it usually goes on Beaver Creek. You have one shot at the big ones and if you miss, that's it for the day. They didn't get big by being stupid.

I continued to fish along the creek and had some better luck at another pool. I switched up the nymphs and threw an upstream cast over water that looked devoid of fish. But as the fly slowly sank, five trout materialized off the bottom and swam up to inspect the bug. I was standing on a high bank wearing polarized glasses and could clearly see everything going on below me. It was interesting to watch how they slowly followed the nymph then one would dart in and quickly inhale then exhale the fly without moving the indicator. They were extremely quick. Fractions of a second. In and out. And the indie did not move. After hooking and landing two nice Rainbows I let the pool rest but came back 30 minutes later and continued to experiment.

I discovered that the trout, at least these trout, would key in on certain flies and totally ignore anything else you threw at them. Size and color mattered. For example I clipped off the fly I had been using and tied on the same pattern, but bigger. The trout didn't even show up to look. After eight drifts I tied the original pattern back on and immediately the trout would appear and make passes as the fly drifted downstream under the indicator. I tied on something that was the same size, but different color. Nothing. Tie on the original and the fish would be back. These fish blended into their environment well. As I said before the water was clear and low and you could see bottom. The creek looked empty, but throw the right fly and there would be a bunch of fish flashing and moving below your bug.

I also continued to be fascinated by the speed and subtle takes. The trout were able to swim up to the fly, grab it, discover it's not food, then spit it out without moving OR stopping the indicator. After watching this I wondered how many times I've missed a fish when nymphing under an indicator. Trout that REALLY wanted the fly would rush up and immediately grab it and the indicator would stop, move a bit or bob up and down but the ones who were interested but cautious would quickly mouth it and swim off without affecting the indicator and leaving the angler clueless about what's happening below.

Other than the first two fish I caught I left these trout alone and just watched their behavior. You can learn a lot by watching and NOT catching as you can by hooking up and landing a fish. After a few hours of very interesting fishing trout school was over and I had to head for home.

EQUIPMENT: I used a 6-weight rod that was 9 feet 6 inches in length with floating line and an assortment of nymphs and streamers.

DIRECTIONS: From I-70 heading towards Hagerstown, take Exit 66 (Boonsboro) and turn left at bottom of ramp onto Mapleville Road (66). Continue down 66 and turn right onto Beaver Creek Road. About 100 yards past Beaver Creek Church Road on your right is the fly fishing parking lot. Follow the signs and instructions.