Updated: Oct 13, 2020
A trio of waters considered best in the state
While most of my fly-fishing for trout is in my home state of Virginia, I do enjoy the opportunity of a road-trip to waters in states nearby. In Trout Unlimited’s guide to the best trout streams in the U.S., three waters in the state of Maryland are highlighted and I have had the chance to fish all three within the past year.
The closest to me is the Big Gunpowder Falls River, which is a prime wild brown trout fishery within easy reach of Washington, DC, Baltimore and Philadelphia. Flows are managed by the release of water from the Prettyboy Dam, so the water keeps at a relatively constant temperature in the mid-50s, providing for year-round trout fishing. This is a bonus for those in the DC area who have a difficult time finding trout water that is fishable during the hot summer months and/or would rather not wade icy water in the winter.
There are some 18 miles of stream below the Dam, the first 7 miles of which represent special-regulation, catch-and-release water. My favorite stretch of the Gunpowder is along the Masemore Water Trail, both upstream and downstream of the Masemore Road Bridge. The trail is fairly easy and affords many opportunities to enter the river, which is easy wading for the most part. But it is important to arrive early in the day, as the trail is popular with hikers and dog walkers, and the river for recreational tubing.
Located in the more remote part of Western Maryland are the Savage River and the North Branch of the Potomac River. I spent an idyllic weekend fishing both waters during the most glorious fall weather that one can experience in this part of the world. Between the two waters, there are approximately 50 miles of fishing opportunities offering prospects for rainbows, browns, brookies, cutthroat and goldens, as well as smallmouth in the lower portions of the North Branch of the Potomac.
The Savage River is aptly named, especially below the dam where it is a four-mile runway of large, slippery boulders facilitating fast water chutes, pockets and riffles that can be diabolical to wade and fish. Even with slip-on steel grips on my boots and a wading staff in hand, navigating upstream felt precarious at the best of times – challenges that made landing my first Savage River brown all the more rewarding. Drop shots and high sticking with weighted nymphs or terrestrials were the way to go on this water.
The North Branch of the Potomac is no less intimidating, although there are portions of that water in the area of Barnum that provide easy access for fishing from the bank. My favorite area was downstream of Barnum, where large boulders provided shelter for some sizeable trout that were enticed by a dry-dropper rig trailing a nymph or midge pattern. There are also some good access points off the highway downstream of Westernport.
Water is occasionally released from Jennings Randolph Lake and the Savage River Dam, so it is important to check the stream flow conditions on the United States Geological Survey (USGS) site or check with local fly shops regarding conditions and approach. I would also recommend a weekend stay at one of the many campgrounds in the area.