BLOOMINGTON -- After you turn north on Savage River Road off Route 135, the air begins to lose its stench as you ascend through the forests and past the cliff faces blasted out of Big Savage Mountain -- from the stacks and effluents of a workingman's town, to a freestone stream sided by wild laurel and rhododendron.
It is at once in spite of and because of workingmen's towns such as Westernport, Luke and Bloomington that this place exists, that trout feed eagerly and spawn liberally enough to have a natural fishery the year around.
Without the needs of businesses and homes, Savage River Dam might not exist, and without the dam, the river would be thin and warm by June. As it is, the river is cold and fast and well-suited to brook trout and browns.
On this day, a light rain falls at the top of Savage Mountain, but only a mist reaches the laurel and rhododendron on the forest floor and thin fog stands above the colder sections of Savage River.
Upstream from the concrete bridge, two-thirds of the way to the dam, a dozen or more brook trout feed in a deep pool, leaving slowly expanding dimples on the surface.
Trout fishing is a business new to me. It is something that brings a nervousness, like handling news stories the morning after Hank Aaron hit No. 715, the night the Colts left town or when Len Bias died.
Late on a Sunday afternoon in latter June, to find only three fishermen along more than three miles of trophy trout stream made the anxiety greater.
The brookies dimpling the surface made me more anxious still.
Usually, when I have gone to a trout stream, it has been possible to follow someone else's lead, to sit back from the banks and watch the tactics of another before delving into the fly box and tying on wet, dry, nymph or streamer.
Most often, I have opted for nymphing, but with the fish apparently feeding on the surface, an elk hair caddis (size 13) got the call and was cast across stream above the brookies and drifted down.
"You might catch one by drifting down on their noses like that. But you'd probably do better moving toward the bridge and casting upstream. You can better do away with drag that way. Trout hate any drag on a fly."
The advice was welcome, if unsolicited, and came from a bespectacled fellow in his 60s who had come quietly down the short pathway from the river road.
"What are you using?" the fellow asked. "Emerger? Those are brookies. Nine, 10 inches, I'd say, feeding just under the surface."
The fellow's name was C. E. Brookley, recently repaired by two weeks in the hospital and now broken down along the river road with car trouble.
Brookley is a fly fisherman and has been one long enough to
have used stretched Spanish cat gut leaders and silk lines. He also is a lifetime member of Trout Unlimited and has been active in restoration and creation of trout habitat and trout fisheries throughout Western Maryland -- and he is proud of what has been accomplished and what still might be accomplished through cooperative efforts with the Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"This river, especially the trophy trout area, is phenomenal," Brookley said while we waited for the radiator of his car to cool. "Dr. [Robert] Bachman of the DNR was up here earlier this year, and he said that he rarely has seen reproduction as good as we have here now.
"Along the banks, there were fingerling trout packed in six to eight inches wide. Over the past few years, it has been good enough that the river isn't stocked in this area anymore."
As we talked, a brookie rose and hit the caddis, but I failed to set the hook and harrumphed in disgust.
"I have been fishing these rivers most of my life," Brookley said as we filled the car radiator and he started to resume his trip up and over Big Savage Mountain, "and I have been beaten here many times, too.
"Switch to an emerger or a nymph. A Hare's Ear will do."
Brookley left with an invitation to come back and fish the Savage and other rivers with him, and I tied on a Hare's Ear and went back down to the pool.
Three hits and an hour later, I could be added to the list, too.
Unlike some Maryland trout streams, few changes have been made in the bed of the lower Savage River, and it is a challenging place to fish. It also is well removed from major population centers. The drive out from Baltimore, for example, takes close to four hours.
Negotiations between the DNR and the Corps of Engineers have produced a release program from the dam that ensures adequate water levels and temperatures for trout.
The trophy trout section of the stream, which limited to the use of flies and artificial lures, has a creel limit of two fish per day and minimum size limits of 12 inches for brook trout and 18 inches for browns. There is no minimum size on rainbow trout.
It is a place well worth visiting, and should you run into C. E. Brookley, give him my name and perhaps he will show you to a good seat.