Catoctin Mountain Park, May 21, 2010
It was an ideal day to go fly fishing. Unfortunately a lot of other people also had the same idea.

An overcast sky was showing a little bit of blue as I drove past the entrance of Catoctin Mountain Park. Immediately I spotted vehicles in the pull-offs leading to trails that wound down to
Big Hunting Creek on my right. As I neared the ranger station and the bridge that spaned the creek I counted around a dozen cars in the big parking lott. I wasn't sure if they were all anglers or hikers, but it was a pretty healthy crowd for a Friday. I continued up the road and as I drove along, where the water angled closer to the road and the tree cover was a bit thinner, I spotted anglers fishing in all the usual spots.

I drove up past the
Joe Brooks memorial to the dam at the base of Hunting Creek Lake then backtracked and parked at a small lot. There were about five cars parked there and a fly fisher was closing up his truck, ready to head down the trail. Rats. It's not that I didn't like fishing around other people, but Big Hunting Creek is a small body of water and if this many people were already here, they already pounded all the usual fishy hangouts and the trout would be hugging the bottom with jaws on lockdown, uninterested in anything I had to offer.

I geared up and headed down the trail. The fly guy I saw in the lot was casting into a pool about 50 yards downstream from me. That was a good spot. It was a deep pool that I fished before and it held some sizeable
brook trout that sheltered below and undercut in the bank. I watched the angler for awhile then turned upstream to put some distance between us before I started to fish.

The temperature was begining to rise and bugs were in the air. I stopped at several points along the creek and watched the water, but I saw no telltail dimples that indicated feeding trout. Things were pretty quiet on this too nice day. I walked up to a bend in the river and again, hunkered down to watch the water. Here the overhead canopy was a bit thinner and the sun was striking the water in some spots, illuminating miniature swarms of gnats flitting above the water. Then at the corner of my eye I caught movement on the water. A slow, spreading ring of water was like a sign saying, "Please fish here."
One of the first thing I learned about fishing on Big Hunting Creek was that for surface fishing, most folks are using dry flies that are too big. They use a big dry fly because, as one angler told me, "I can hardly tie a small fly on much less see where it goes when I cast it." But the small stuff works. I carry a box of flies, dries and nymphs, I tied for use on this creek only and the largest one starts at size 18 then bottoms out at size 26. Many of the flies are basically a thread body with a bit of flash or feather, but they're effective. I tie them on the end of three feet of 6X or 7X with a total overall leader length that's between 12 to 14 feet long. And with the heavy tree growth along the banks of the creek, you need to be really careful about how and where you sling your backcast.

I sat on the bank and watched the water for 15 minutes. Fish activity was picking up and I counted around nine 'somethings' gently dimpling the water or actively splashing during the take. I assumed that the 'dimplers' were eating stuff just under
the water film and the 'splashers' were taking things off the surface. There was one particularly active feeder close to a fallen tree and I decided to try for that one first. I tied on a size 22 black CDC gnat with a small hot pink parachute post and began fishing.

The current near the tree was tricky, with the water running slower there than three feet further out so I had to put a big
mend on the line to get things to slow down a bit. The first cast was on target but not enough mend, causing the fly to be dragged out before it reached the fish. I stopped fishing for a few minutes as a large water snake swam by. The second cast was way off and useless. I stopped the cast in midflight because another water snake was swimming past and the line would have gone right over it. But the third cast produced a fish. I saw the fly drift over the spot, watched the slurp, waited a few seconds as a bit of the leader was tugged underwater, then set the hook. The fish went crazy for a bit, running around the pool and trying to duck under the fallen tree. I saw a bit of flash during the fight so I knew it wasn't a brookie and thought maybe I hooked a sucker fish but when I got it in close it turned out to be a rainbow trout.

I continued to fish upstream and the fishing was fair. But as it got close to noon the feeding activity slowed then stopped entirely. An odd thing I observed around that time were a bunch of brook trout, which were feeding, slowly wound down their eating then stopped. They had been strung out along a shallow glide, but one by one each fish slowly drifted downstream, bunched up in a shallow pool and milled around in a tight school. I was able to walk up to within a rod's length from them and they just sat there on the bottom. The action was over.

With nothing feeding on the surface I tried nymphing for awhile but it seemed that the fish just weren't interested so I headed back to the car. On the way I saw some white shaped on the bottom of a pool and it turned out to be several dead fish. I guess an animal had gotten to them because they were eaten from the head to just about midsection. I'm saying it was an animal because if it was a person who ate the fish they left the best parts behind.
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 6X or 7X tippet. Use small flies and a very gentle presentation.

DIRECTIONS: From Virginia: 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.