Is Loch Raven Maryland's Best Bass Lake?

Hot action for big bass (both largemouth and smallmouth) has anglers wondering if this impoundment is our top inland bass water.

By Gary Diamond

Similar to all of Maryland's lakes, Loch Raven is an impoundment formed by the construction of a granite block dam in 1875. The dam was raised to its present height in 1922, creating an impoundment measuring seven miles long with a surface area covering more than 2,400 acres.

The surrounding watershed, which is also owned by the city of Baltimore, consists of approximately 4,500 acres of pine forests interspersed with stands of hardwoods. The lake's shoreline measures approximately 38 miles and the average depth at the time of construction was 45 to 50 feet, with a maximum depth of 75 feet just above Loch Raven Dam. Since then, siltation from upstream development has filled in many of the lake's channels, and in its upper reaches, locations uplake of Warren Road Bridge, depths beneath the span have decreased from nearly 20 feet some 20 years ago to just 4 feet today.

Two decades ago, aquatic grasses were only found in small, isolated patches, mainly in the back ends of shallow coves where small tributaries flow through nearby housing developments. Warmer temperatures, plus increased nutrients from the run-off of heavily fertilized lawns, triggered the growth of various forms of pondweed in the reservoir.

This proved to be somewhat beneficial for the lake's largemouth bass population. After all, juvenile largemouths can hide among the dense beds of pondweed.

Today, Loch Raven hosts several large bass tournaments, all of which boast relatively high weights for the winning teams. And, more often than not, each event's winning lunker is a bass weighing 6 pounds or more. Last summer, an 8-pounder was brought back to the Loch Raven Fishing Center, then weighed and released at the center's docks.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Dozens of exceptionally large smallmouth bass up to 5 pounds were caught and released last year. Of course, there's always the tale of the big one that got away. Amazingly, those fish that escaped were all record-breakers, at least that's what the anglers who lost them said.

Some of the best largemouth bass action takes place in the lake's upper reaches every spring. This is where avid reservoir angler Harry Pippin spends much of his free time casting a variety of lures for largemouth and smallmouth bass.

"I consider Loch Raven among the state's premier largemouth bass-fishing lakes, and over the past four to five years, I've caught lots of exceptionally large fish. And, while I consider Prettyboy Reservoir a better lake for smallmouth bass, Loch Raven is right at the top of the list when it comes to catching lots of largemouth bass. And the average size of the bass caught seems to be higher here than any other impoundment.

"The grassbeds provide an incredible nursery area for smaller fish, but additionally, they also provide a great place for predators to ambush smaller fish as well. Everything in the entire food chain is booming because of the emergence of the grassbeds throughout the lake," said Pippin.

"I fish it predominately in the spring and early summer. I can tell you firsthand the bass fishing during spring is phenomenal. It's one of my favorite places to go because I've had some incredible days of catching more big bass than anyone would have imagine," he said.

"All of these fish were taken on spinnerbaits and weedless tubes. I came back to the same area in mid- summer and caught nearly as many fish, several of which weighed 4 or more pounds. There's not another lake in the state that provides this quality and quantity of largemouth bass."

Pippin says most of the lake's water column produces good numbers of big fish through much of the entire season.

"I think that as long as bass have available cover and sufficient food, they tend to remain in specific areas. This is especially true in water like Loch Raven where the oxygen level remains good because of the abundance of aquatic grasses. I've caught some big bass in the shallows during early spring, especially in the open areas between the grassbeds and shore. However, I've also found them on the outside of the beds, where the depths fall off to 20 feet or more."

Pippin says one of the most productive locations during the past few years has been in the lake's upper reaches at Merrymans Hump, which is located approximately 400 feet northeast of Merrymans Point. This stump-strewn, rock-covered ridge lurks just 10 feet beneath the surface and provides excellent bass fishing throughout the season. This is an excellent location to cast weighted tube lures and deep-diving crankbaits.

Another location with similar structure is Warren Point, which is situated approximately a quarter-mile downlake of Warren Bridge on the lake's north shore. This 40-foot-wide gravel bar extends well out into the lake for a distance of 100 yards or more, falling off on the south side to depths of 25 feet. It's a popular spot for largemouths, especially during early spring, and again, in late fall.

When it comes to catching big smallmouths, Pippin says the sharp, rocky structure found along the lake's western shore between Merrymans Point and downlake to Walnut Point is tough to beat. The maze of submerged boulders holds bronzebacks ranging 2 to 4 pounds, and they'll not only relate to the grassbeds, but later in the day, they often take up residence between the boulders.

"I found the best smallmouths right after the spawn, mainly in early June near Merrymans Hump. These fish were holding near the old foundations and in the rocks. I caught several on crankbaits. There are lots of big smallmouths here, and not many people fish for them. When it comes to catching big smallmouths, I rate Prettyboy at the top, but Loch Raven has to be a very close second," adds Pippin.

Loch Raven Reservoir has certain restrictions that apply mainly to boating anglers. No fishing is permitted downlake of the bridge at Loch Raven Road, also known as Bridge No. 1. Boating anglers can only launch at the ramp located at the Loch Raven Fishing Center. All boats must measure at least 12 feet in length, have a beam of 48 inches and interior side depth of 18 inches. They can only be powered with electric trolling motors or oars. Gasoline-powered engines are strictly prohibited. An annual pass for launching sells for $50 and is mandatory for all boats on the impoundment.

The fishing center is open from the first Friday in April through Nov. 31. Hours of operation vary with the time of year, and the facility is closed through the winter months. Rental boats and electric motors are available at the center

for a nominal fee and all anglers are required to have a valid Maryland freshwater fishing license. For additional information, call (410) 887-7692 during fishing season, and (410) 887-3818 during off-season times.

So is Loch Raven Maryland's best bass lake? The answer is a resounding yes. Raven's largemouth bass fishery is second to none, and its smallmouth bass fishery can be rated as good to excellent; the impoundment has good access, excellent water quality and diverse structure.

Loch Raven is close to metropolitan Baltimore, yet far enough away to provide a great environment. The icing on the cake is that the quality of the impoundment's other fisheries is equally as good as the bass fishing. Need I say more?

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