Friday morning Sheila and I drove almost to Cumberland before running out of the rain. The weather report was some light rain Friday clearing off late and a warm sunny day on Saturday.
At Cumberland we met Brian and Lori Vandeventer, a couple new to fly fishing, then proceeded on into the Big Run camp ground stopping for wood along the way. Lou Reichel and Shawn Ackley had already pitched their tents in the pavilion; Ken Bowyer pulled in shortly thereafter. Shawn had a nice pile of split wood piled up. Adding the bundles that each of the rest of us brought made an impressive pile of wood, most of which we used during the next couple of days.
It was cool, maybe 60, so pretty pleasant temp wise, and by the time we got our tents set up we were getting a little sprinkle. Brian had never cast a fly rod before, so he had a quick casting lesson before we headed for the river.
Driving down the Lower Savage I spotted Lou Reichel's van at the PhD pool and pulled over to see what was happening. Leaning over the bridge just in time to see Shawn land a nice brown. I could see a pretty fair hatch of something coming off and fish rising throughout the pool. We crossed the bridge and dropped down through the brush on the far side of the pool so as not to interfere with Shawn or Lou. Using my 2X binos I found some flies on the water and tied on a simple three hackle # 20, handed the rod to Brian and told him to cast above the rising fish. The PhD pool is really not the place to teach a guy who has never held a fly rod before, but given the 200cfs it was the flattest water except for maybe the 7X Pool to show him how to drift a fly.
I'm a poor instructor, and it's amazing just how much of the mechanics of casting and managing line I do without really being cognizant of my movements. Trying to translate this information while on the fly so to speak, using terms Brian was totally unfamiliar with, and the instruction coming late gave the results as one would expect. Even so, we did get a couple decent drifts to the fish with the #20 without any response so we changed to a #18, still nothing. By this time I was pretty sure the flies were Blue Quills and tied on a winged version and was demonstrating a drift when the largest brown rising near us, maybe 15 inches, took. Wanting Brian to have the fish on experience I handed the rod back and attempted to talk him through the playing and landing the fish. This proved an ineffective strategy since I had yet to explain how the drag system on the reel worked or how to strip in slack line to keep pressure on the fish. The fish made a couple of strong runs then got under a rock. I took the rod, pulled him out, and handed the rod back to Brian. But, then with too much slack the fish bolted down into the fast water under the bridge. I managed to wallow down after him and amazingly the fish was still on when I got there, flopping around my knees - but I missed him with the net then he was gone. I should have had him, but I think the net touched the tippet and it was more than the 7X could stand. Even so we had the drama and excitement so good enough.
Later we tried to do some nymphing in the pocket water upstream from the PhD but the flows were heavy enough to have eliminated a lot of the pockets and so much rock snot was free floating at times it was a little exasperating. It was getting on to evening anyway so we headed back to camp.
Driving up to the pavilion I could see an inviting blaze burning in the hearth all the way from the road bringing on thoughts of hot coffee and supper. Before I could get too comfortable Sheila sent me out to find some sticks suitable for roasting marshmallows. While whittling off a few sticks just inside the tree line about halfway between the pavilion and the bathrooms I heard Brian and Shawn yell, "Bear! Bear!" I never saw it, but they said it was only about 30-40 feet away from me when it suddenly saw me, turned, and dashed back across the road. They said it was a nice big bear and were surprised at just how fast it turned and ran away. I'm just glad I didn't stumble into some cubs and have to face a pissed off mother bear with nothing but a marshmallow stick in my hand! In the past 10 years we have seen a number of bears on these outings to Western Maryland but this is the first time we have had one up close to the pavilion. We took extra care to make sure we didn't leave any trash or goodies around camp that might entice the bear to come any closer during the night!
We love to cook on these outings and, and Friday night was grill night. Throw on whatever you want. For me that means steak with all the fix'ns. Afterward we roasted marshmallows, made S'mores, ate cookies and drank coffee, tea, & hot chocolate. Too full to sit comfortably and probably hyped up from all the sugar I hovered in the near proximity of the fire and listened to the banter.
Saturday morning while I was making coffee Bob O'Donnell said he found some mushrooms near the creek. So down we went to look, and sho nuff! Right there not four feet apart was two big grays (morels). Where there is one or two there are usually more, but a careful search resulted in nothing. Bob said he didn't want them so I threw them in my cooler. At home I soaked them in salt water over night, dipped them in egg, rolled them in flour and fried them in butter. Delicious, wished I had a peck sack full.
Talk around the fire that night had most of us thinking brookies for tomorrow. The Lower Savage was high but the Upper, Big Run and Poplar Lick were in excellent condition. Big Run was especially good with clear deep runs, lots of bugs and active fish. Saturday morning most of us were heading for one of these. In the afternoon I took Brian and the wives down to the 7X pool to wait for a hatch and maybe spot some risers but nothing. The hatch had been pretty good the night before and maybe that's why? Or, maybe the change in the weather?
That night we feasted on Chili and hotdogs, topped off of course with some toasted marshmallows. We banked up a big fire and sat around it till our drooping eye lids told us it was time for bed. Around three o'clock a storm blew through, thunder lightening and rained bucket full's. But we were snug under the pavilion roof .
Sunday morning was clear & bright and after breaking camp the drive out was beautiful. The river was still up when we left, running clear and quite fishable but a lot of the pocket water still covered by flows and of course still full of rock snot. The first week in June there is supposed to be a big release of about 1000cfs so hopefully that will clear all the snot out. Even with the conditions being tough we caught a fair amount of fish. I know Shawn got a brown out of the PhD, Brian & I should have netted one, and Bob said he got two browns just up from the PhD pool. We all got some brookies; Ken reported nine, Shawn said a bunch, the rest of us just some. Special congrats to Brian who hooked and landed his first trout on a dry fly unaided. From the sounds of things I think he may be hooked too!
There was a variety of bugs out; several types of Midges, a good Blue Quills #16 hatch on Friday, Yellow Sallies #16 on Big Run Saturday, a small Black Caddis that Ken & Lou saw, Blond/Brown Caddis that ranged in sizes #18-#14 , and a few yellow Mayflies Ken saw that could have been Sulphers.
We had success on a lot of different flies; High floating Blue Quills tied with wings, Elk hair Caddis, Royal Wulff, Para Adams, Yellow Stimulator, CDC Caddis gray/black, and bob reported two fishing sub surface Cress Bugs.
Before we left we decided to do this campout again in October during Columbus day weekend so put it on your calendar.