From the roiling waters of the North Branch to the more serene flows of White Clay Creek, here are places to try right now in our states.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
By Gary Diamond
Two years of drought have had a dramatic effect on trout-stocking programs in Maryland and Delaware. At many locations, the prolonged spells of dry weather dictated when and where trout would be stocked. Additionally, in areas where native trout existed, drought-stricken waters fell to incredibly low levels and natural predation on the surviving trout increased by a significant degree.
The drought not only determined which bodies of water would be stocked last spring, but also how many fish would be stocked during the fall stocking program. Water levels and flows were so low in many central Maryland streams that they were reduced to nothing more than a trickle flowing through a shallow maze of boulders.
Compounding the problem was an increased demand on groundwater supplies by an agricultural industry desperately trying to salvage withering crops, plus unabated real estate development or rural areas that relied solely on underground sources for drinking water. In some areas, the water table fell more than 30 feet, thereby drying up springheads that are crucial coldwater sources for most trout streams.
This added to the dilemma at Maryland's trout hatcheries, where water flows through the hatcheries' raceways was down to a trickle. While Delaware purchases their trout from private hatcheries, Maryland's program includes complete hatchery facilities where nearly 50,000 rainbow trout are hatched, reared and stocked annually.
During a normal year, 50,000 to 70,000 trout 10 to 12 inches long are stocked during October. These fish frequently carry over into the spring and grow another inch or two in the six-month interval. This past fall, just 32,000 trout were stocked in streams.
Fortunately, most of Maryland's major trout streams are located in the state's western counties. Significantly more rain fell in Montgomery, Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties than those counties to the east. Additionally, tailrace streams such as the Gunpowder River, downstream of Prettyboy Dam, Savage River and others situated below municipal water-supply impoundments, were not severely impacted by the drought because of mandated water flows to maintain each stream's water quality. Therefore, these streams will likely receive traditional allocations of trout this spring, and possibly more fish than normal if other streams remain low.
The Department of Natural Resources' (DNR) hatcheries will raise the same number of fish and they must stock them somewhere. If there's insufficient water at one location, they'll stock them where stream flows are higher. If there's no stream in the area that meets the criteria, the fish will be stocked in ponds and lakes. Keep in mind, however, that most of the best streams are located in the more remote regions of the state, away from major population centers. But as any avid trout fisherman knows, this can be viewed as a big plus - not a negative thing.
HARFORD COUNTY Fortunately, there should be sufficient water to stock Deer Creek with catchable-sized rainbow trout this spring. Approximately 10,000 trout will be stocked in Deer Creek. The stockings had already begun in early March when nearly 5,000 rainbows were strategically placed along a five-mile stretch. This area begins at the base of Eden Mill Dam and continues downstream to the southern end of Rocks State Park.
While streamside parking is limited, there are several picnic areas that are open to licensed recreational anglers during most of the spring, and on weekdays after June 1. If you want to get one of these streamside parking spots, you should seriously consider getting out of bed long before the rooster crows. Most of these spots are usually taken by 5 a.m.
While most of the trout are stocked at sites where hatchery trucks can get relatively close to the stream, bridges, culverts and pull-offs, the fish will quickly disperse, most ending up on the deeper pools situated along Saint Clair Bridge Road and just below Eden Mill Dam. For some unexplained reason, the pools along Rocks Road don't seem to hold nearly as many fish, yet they're deeper and the flows are somewhat slower.
Though Deer Creek is heavily fished during the first week or two after opening day, much of the fishing pressure abates by mid-April, yet the stream will still hold significant numbers of trout. On weekdays, anglers will find they have most of the stream's designated trout segment to themselves and will rarely encounter another angler at any location that requires a hike of more than a few hundred yards.
GARRETT COUNTY More than 20,000 rainbow trout will be stocked in the three designated trout segments of this exceptional body of water. While most of the area within the three sites is categorized as put-and-take, two areas are designated as catch-and-release. A short stretch of river, just downstream of the Jennings Randolph Dam, is limited to catch-and-release; however, you don't have to travel very far to reach the put-and-take area, which is a significantly longer stretch of stream. The North Branch was not heavily impacted by last year's drought, and should again provide excellent trout fishing opportunities.
Potomac River North Branch
Deep Creek Lake While this particular lake is heavily fished throughout most of the year, the 2002 season only provided a marginal yield for avid trout anglers. No one is quite sure why last year's trout season was poor, but one thing is certain: There will be lots of carry-over fish available next spring, some that will be real trophies. These fish will be in addition to the 11,000 trout that are normally stocked over a three-month period beginning in March.
Deep Creek Lake's trout action really doesn't get underway until late April, a time when the impoundment is awakening from a long winter's nap. Because both water and air temperatures will be barely above freezing, only a handful of anglers will actively fish this western Maryland impoundment during early spring.
Most of Deep Creek Lake's trout will be holding a few hundred yards above Deep Creek Lake Dam, suspended about 20 feet beneath the surface in depths to 70 feet. Bait shop owner John Marple says most of the larger trout, those tipping the scales at 4 pounds or more, are usually taken while suspending a large, live minnow about 20 feet beneath a tiny float. "When the float starts dancing around, set the hook and hang on. Most times you be hooked up with a big rainbow of 2 to 4 pounds, but at this time of year, you could also be battling a big northern
pike, muskie or maybe even a big walleye. You just never know," said Marple.
ALLEGANY COUNTY Last fall's rains rescued Rocky Gap Lake from going completely dry, though the lake was still several feet below normal after these initial rains. If spring rainfall is normal, the lake will be overflowing by now.
Rocky Gap Lake
Rocky Gap Lake is a picturesque impoundment located in Allegany County. The lake is situated high in the county's mountains in the confines of a beautiful state park. Rocky Gap is just a two-hour drive from metropolitan Baltimore on Interstate 70 or Interstate 68.
More than 8,000 fat rainbows will be stocked here, most measuring 10 to 12 inches. Ironically, as close as this lake is to Baltimore and Washington, D.C., it really doesn't get a lot of fishing pressure, especially for trout. Consequently, unusually large numbers of carry-over fish are caught from the impoundment every spring, but by midsummer, no one seems to be remotely interested in fishing for trout. This body of water, especially when it comes to trout fishing, can be categorized as a sleeper, one that could possibly produce the next state- record rainbow.
Gunpowder River While two years worth of drought have had some effect on water flows in the Gunpowder River, it has not been as severe as on most nearby streams. This is because of mandated, minimum flows coming from the base of Prettyboy Dam. The water drawn from the bottom of Prettyboy Reservoir is used to maintain the stream's environmental quality, and additionally, keep Loch Raven Reservoir filled to near capacity. Therefore, despite two years of horrendous drought, the river continued to flow at near normal rates.
Much of the river downstream of Prettyboy Dam is designated as catch-and-release only and mandates the use of artificial flies. This particular stretch holds huge numbers of naturally reproducing trout ranging from 6-inch runts to 18-inchers. Most are rainbows, but there are significant numbers of browns, and at some of the colder locations, fair numbers of native brook trout.
Approximately 6,500 rainbows will be stocked downstream of the catch- and-release area, a stretch that runs several miles from Corbett Road south to the hiker/biker trail a mile south of Phoenix Road. Much of the stream parallels the trail, thereby providing excellent angler access throughout much of its length.
An additional 7,500 rainbows will be stocked downriver of Loch Raven's Little Dam, in a stretch of stream that covers nearly 10 miles to the I-95 Bridge. While some of this segment is accessible from paralleling roads, either canoeing or kayaking through vast expanses of the river's heavily forested valley are the only ways to access a significant portion of the stream. It's a great place to fish, but it's one of those locations where you should be in good physical condition before deciding to hike to the most productive pools. It could be a long hike.
DELAWARE Delaware's designated trout streams were severely affected by the past two years of drought, however, some much needed relief finally came to the Delmarva Peninsula late last September and continued well into winter. Consequently, the state's streams are at more normal flows, and in some instances, flows will be somewhat above normal due to spring rains and run-off. Consequently, First State anglers will likely see a repeat performance of last year, with approximately 30,000 fat rainbow trout being stocked in a half-dozen streams.
White Clay Creek White Clay Creek, New Castle County's most popular trout stream, originates in southeastern Pennsylvania and flows in a southerly direction through a relatively long stretch of state park. White Clay Creek provides anglers with good to excellent fishing opportunities through most of April and into mid-May.
Just over 21,000 rainbows will be stocked in the stream beginning the first week in April and continuing until the end of the month. Of those, approximately 350 will measure at least 14 inches or larger and be categorized as trophy trout. The largest number is usually stocked a week prior to opening day, followed by eight subsequent stockings that are equally distributed through the month. Initially, about 4,000 trout will be distributed in an area just over a mile long. Subsequent stockings will range from 2,000 to 3,000 fish each until the final slug of fish is placed in the stream.
Christina River This small tributary will receive approximately 4,500 trout during April. Christina River has always been popular with Newark-area anglers because it is easily accessible from dozens of locations that are just a stone's throw from state Route (SR) 896. While the stream is quite small, it is heavily fished, especially near the SR 896 crossing and where it runs relatively close to the I-95 interchange.
Wilson Run Wilson Run, a small tributary that eventually flows into Brandywine Creek near the town of Rockland, will be stocked with approximately 3,000 rainbow trout during April. A total of 500 trout will be stocked initially; however, another 1,500 to 2,000 fish will be added soon after the first stocking occurs. Subsequent stockings, of which there are four, will range from 200 to 700 fish, plus another 45 trophy trout that measure 14 inches or larger.
Two other streams, Mill and Pike creeks, will receive approximately 350 to 550 trout apiece during three stocking days. These streams are both marginal at best when it comes to trout habitat and will only be stocked until the middle of April.
Similar to Maryland's trout programs, Delaware's freshwater trout fishery is supported entirely by the sale of trout stamps. There is no other source of revenue for these programs. Therefore, without angler support, they could not exist. For additional information on Delaware's trout program, visit their Web site at http://www.dnrec.state.de.us.
In a nutshell, after winter's weather loses its frosty grip, anglers in Maryland and Delaware can look forward to a great 2003 trout season. However, if by some slim chance the weather prognosticators are actually correct, or the groundhog doesn't see its shadow, it could be a tough year for coldwater anglers. Everything depends on the whims of Mother Nature.
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