Fly Fishing the Gunpowder and the (Tidal) Patuxent River

November is my favorite month in Maryland for fishing.  The weather is often perfect, and the fish are feeding actively, gearing up for the metabolic pause of winter.

Over the last two weekends, I fished two very different places, each in its own late-fall pattern.

In the middle of November, I did a solo afternoon and evening trip to the Gunpowder river.  In falls past, I’ve done decently on native brown trout by swinging small olive woolly buggers on my 3wt.  This time, I was going to fish the upper section of the river, an area I had never tried.  I stopped in Backwater Angler before the trip, and talked to Gene about my options and a little bit on tactics – time well spent.

A shallow slow pool on the Gunpowder.

I parked on Falls Road, and hiked up river.  On this region of the river, the Gunpowder looks like many of the mountain streams I saw in the Rockies – big fast plunge pools, boulders and rocks strewn about, all lying in a tight, narrow canyon.

Gorgeous water on the Gunpowder River.

I fished a heavy, double nymph rig for 2 hours without a tap, working the edges of the faster runs.  Fed up, I switched to a small olive woolly bugger, slapped on a couple small split shot, and proceeded to work the same sections of the river as the sun sank lower on the horizon.  As shadows grew longer, the fish began to bite.  A small tug here and there, and I landed two small fingerling rainbow trout.

Fingerling Rainbow Trout on the Gunpowder River.

I slapped on a head lamp, and kept throwing flies along the edges of deeper, slow water pools.  I had one nice brown take the fly, leaping from the water entirely and throwing the hook.  After that bite, it was pitch dark, and I wandered my way back to my car, getting lost for a while in that silent canyon before stumbling across Falls Road.

The following weekend I fished out of Solomons, MD, putting nearly 40 miles on my boat wandering up and down the Patuxent, and as far north as the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant.  I never found stripers in the Chesapeake at fishable concentrations (at least for fly fishing), but gannets and large gulls were thick from Cove Point up to the Little Choptank.

Terns near Point Patience on the Patuxent.

Heading back into the Patuxent, we saw multiple flocks of terns feeding actively.  Under the flock near Point Patience, fish were thick from the surface down forty feet, but none would bite.  We tried for twenty minutes, but the fish would not bite flies or lures, small or large, deep or shallow, retrieved fast or slow.  Why?  I can only guess this school were very small striped bass and white perch.  We left this school, and fished two more flocks of terns and accompanying sprawling schools of striped bass.  These fish were from Broomes Island south to the mouth of St. Leonard Creek, and were anywhere from 12″ to 20″ in length.

We went up river to Battle Creek to fish the points in the river.  After catching one small fish, we hooked up to a large striped bass that proceeded to rip off line before throwing the hook.  We left soon after, fishing a bit more at the schools in the river before heading into the dock.

The day ended with a picturesque sunset and the calls of loons across the still water of Hungerford Creek.

What a sunset.

The next day, I pulled the boat for the year.  On the way to the boat ramp, I fished the same schools of fish as the day before, catching a couple dozen striped bass.  All in all, it was a good year on the bay.  And I count myself fortunate to have navigated its waters for another trip around the sun.

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