Initially the April outing was planned and advertised for Virginia’s Rapidan River in hopes for some great brook trout fishing However due to reported low water conditions on the Rapidan the destination was revised to Maryland’s Savage River, a tailwater fishery and not as susceptible to the current drought-like conditions.
Ironically, it was wet stormy weather not dry that threatened the success of the trip. Tim Bowers and I pulled into the Savage River road camping area about 10 am as a steady rain pelted our windshield. Ken Bowyer pulled up beside us a few minutes later; he had arrived the evening before and camped after an evening of fishing. The weather man was forecasting a break in the storm around noon with temperatures rising to the high 60’s, then remaining cloudy the rest of the day with some evening clearing before more storms around noon on Sunday. Sitting in the truck waiting for the forecasted break, we leaned back and snoozed listening to the drops beating on the roof of the cab. As the rain lessened a little we noticed a hairy woodpecker working a branch in the tree above us, then some Robins materialized and started picking through the grass in our front. Taking this as a sign of the forecasted fairer weather we geared up and headed for the river.
After a brief planning session about when to meet and set up the tents, Tim headed down stream and I proceeded to the PHD pool joining Ken and another angler not of our group. A light rain still fell as we three nymphed different sections of the pool. Soon Ken waved off and headed elsewhere while I continued to dredge the bottom with a chartreuse worm. After a few minutes the other angler left. I decided to work the entire length of the pool before leaving and was just noticing the rain had completely stopped when I saw the first rise, then another, and then a couple more. Stopping to watch I saw some small light powdery mayfly wings in a size #20 drifting on the surface. At first I thought they might be blue quills, but a closer look made me think blue winged olives as their overall appearance was small and tinged with green. While not muddy from the rain, the water did have a little bit of a milky cast to it but I soon became aware of trout stacked up at the lower end of the pool intercepting the little flies as they drifted through the chutes of water that ran on either side of a submerged rock.
In 1999 I tied a half dozen # 20 olive duns that I’ve carried in my box ever since. Occasionally I’ve shown them to trout who before that moment have never even second glanced them let alone rise to one. Apparently like dogs, every fly has its day too because the fish took’em and wouldn’t look at anything else, even when drifted among herds of the naturals I had fish gulp them. As the hatch intensified trout rose in splashy rises, at other times in deliberately slow takes sticking their heads clear of the surface far enough to reveal their gaping jaws and dark eyes. When the hatch became particularly heavy fish would shimmy across the surface, dorsals and backs protruding, gulping flies gliding down into the chutes around a submerged rock at the tail of the pool. The closest fish rising to me was a pod of large brookies, the largest wild fish I’ve ever seen. I got so excited trying to get a proper drift my feet tangled in the rocks and I fell in, the 44 degree water spilling up my left arm soaking me to my shoulder. In a couple of hours fishing I managed three brookies and three browns and left ’em rising when my water logged and fish slimed flies refused to float any longer. The best brookie was a beautiful orange tipped 12 incher, over two inches longer than any of my previous best, followed by one just over 11 and another around 10. The best brown, a hefty 15 inch fish took me clear under the bridge and out the other side before surrendering. She had three brilliant red splashes on the adipose fin and the top two rays of the tail were a bright crimson. The other two browns maybe an inch or two shorter were the color of medium caramel with bright ruby spots.
Ken reported a similar experience offering a variety of flies to rising trout that included parachute Adams, blue dun, mahogany dun, & black caddis before deciding it was olives coming off and hitting pay dirt with his own version of a # 20 bwo. Ken brought four fish to the net, a 10 inch brookie, and 3 browns ranging from 9 to 12 inches. Ken also LDR’d a larger brown of maybe 14 inches he hooked on a zebra midge emerger, which pulled off his escape at the point of being netted by darting through a sunken branch as ken dipped the net, netting the branch instead of the fish.
Tim started his fishing down close to the foot bridge and worked pocket water back up to the camp site. He reported a couple of 10 inchers, a brown and a rainbow. Both fish were taken on subsurface flies, one on a #16 pheasant tail olive flashback, and the other on a partridge and pheasant soft hackle in size #14.
Later that evening we met back at camp site #113 just above the PHD pool. The ground had dried out fairly nicely and we pitched our tents before starting a fire. We managed to get some wet wood gleaned from past camp fires to burn to make some hot coffee and cook supper. Later, full of hot soup and dogs we stood around the fire and enjoyed being in the hills on such a pleasant spring evening. Next morning we managed to make some fresh coffee and strike the tents just as a light sprinkle began to fall.
Getting on the PHD pool we made only a few casts before thunder began to rumble over the ridge line. Soon we were entreated to some of those sickening lighting flashes that are not unlike a camera flash followed by a pop that has a definite electrical sound to it. I don’t mind a little rain, but lightening always makes counter measures seem a little more urgent and I retreated under the bridge until things let up. We had three or four episodes of these cloud bursts, the rain stopping only briefly to begin again in drenching down pours. Ken who had driven up the road said he even saw some small hail. In about an hour the rains began to lessen and a few bwo’s began to appear except this time the fish rises didn’t follow. I caught a 9-10 inch brookie on a #18 snowshoe olive parachute and that was it for about 30 minutes when the clouds parted revealing blue sky while shafts of light penetrated the pool. Several bugs began to appear, first a variety of midges, black, cream and grey with a few olives still coming and what may have been a sparse hatch of little mahogany duns. A couple of fish were sporadically rising and for the next hour and a half things got technical. After refusing imitations of every other bug on the water a 13 inch brown and another brookie that nosed past the 12 inch mark on the tape finally succumbed to a # 24 grey Griffiths on 8x tippet. I held up the fish for Tim and Ken to admire who both said beautiful fish, then followed it up with they wouldn’t vouch for any stories told about any 12 inch brookies being caught. Around noon Tim and I bid Ken farewell and headed back east. Ken stayed a bit longer moving down stream cathing a couple of browns on a simple midge pupae dropper. The first a 14 incher, and an 11 incher that ken said leaped like a rainbow.
It wasn’t what it started out to be, and the rain could have spoiled it at any time, but in the end I think the three of us that made it had a pretty enjoyable time. If we missed the blue quill hatch we hit an olive one, catching some great fish and even managing to stay dry throughout the night. Remember we have another outing to western Maryland the end of May, hope to fish with all of you then.