“Pinch me,” I thought, “I must be dreaming,” having a very hard time believing that here I was wading in cold, cascading water on a hot, humid early-summer day fishing for wild trout not far from home.
Does it get any better than that for the Mid-Atlantic summer trout angler?
While most fishers were gearing up for the warm-water species like the smallmouth and largemouth bass that we love in Virginia, I was angling my way down the Gunpowder River next door in Maryland.
The “Gun,” as some call it, is a terrific tailwater that runs from the Prettyboy Dam to the Loch Raven reservoir, where it becomes the primary water source for a million-plus people in the Baltimore area.
It’s also the original fishing grounds of the late, great Lefty Kreh.
This day I started in the morning in a part of the river my fishing buddy Brian Mullis calls the “PhD” section. It’s the upper, coldest stretch closest to the dam; it’s also the most-pressured and, therefore, most technical part of the river for fishing.
The target up here are wild brown trout.
When I arrived at the Gunpowder Falls Park parking lot that morning, I found Mullis had already put together a nifty nymph rig to outsmart these “post-grad” brownies, chilling out in the Gun’s 55-degree water.
Not wanting to be outsmarted by my very adept angling friend, we headed in different directions on the river. He went upstream and I downstream to hit fishy pools with a streamer. I pocketed a few browns but I was pretty sure I was missing a lot of fish.
What made me feel this way was that the Gunpowder is supposed to have as many as 3,000 trout per mile in the 7 1/2-mile catch-n-release section below the falls. That’s a lot of brown, brook and rainbow trout for an Eastern U.S. river.
My fears were confirmed when I met back up with Mullis a few hours later for after-action reports. He caught a lot more fish than I did with his nymph-rig – and in the tougher section close to the dam.
In the afternoon, I met up with Mike Watriss, owner of Great Feathers Fly Shop, for some more fishing. He’s been working these waters for years and we planned to fish below the PhD section, where it’s a bit warmer and stocked with rainbows.
In other words, way easier.
The game in this part of the Gun is streamers like the Kreelex and classic wet flies like the Wood Duck Heron. The fish were very accommodating that afternoon and most casts seemed to hook up with a ‘bow – or a very good-sized creek chub.
It was a great way to regain some confidence after a tough morning.
Gunpowder trout aren’t monsters, generally falling in the 6-12-inch range. There certainly are exceptions: I landed a nice 16-incher that afternoon. Watriss sees the Gun as mostly a 4-weight rod river but claims that someone once landed a 33-inch brown.
I probably should’ve kept that info TOP SECRET.
Beyond streamers, nymphs and wets, the Gun also has its share of hatches, including caddis, stoneflies, midges, and mayflies, especially sulphurs. The late spring sulphur hatches provide for some great dry fly fishing when the bugs are coming off.
Terrestrials like ants, beetles and grasshoppers are the trout’s favorite summertime snack. And, oh, yeah, leave your bait at home; single-hook artificial lures or flies only, please, in the river’s upper catch-n-release section.
Another fun feature of the Gunpowder River is that the first 7 1/2-miles don’t have many tributaries that will muddy the waters after a rain, keeping the river potentially fishable even after a downpour.
Below this stretch, Maryland has a put-n-take section where the Maryland Department of Natural Resources stocks several thousand rainbows during the cooler months. In the warmer months, you can catch smallmouth bass, panfish and pike.
With water coming out of the Prettyboy Dam at a consistent, trout-friendly temperature throughout the year, the Gun is a fab fishery. And nah, you’re not dreaming, you are really fishing for trout in the summer heat not that far from your front porch.