DICKERSON -- Aside from a frog that followed along the shore and the small fish that nibbled at my socks in the shallows, the Monocacy River above the Route 28 bridge was a lonely, lovely place to be as the temperatures rose through the 80s.
The river was up slightly and murky from thunderstorms the night before, but still its flow was slow and good for wading and fly fishing.
At summer flows, finding a 12-inch smallmouth in this stretch of river was something of a problem, but sunfish and young smallmouth bass crowd the eddies that back into the water LTC willow.
And even small fish can be a lot of fun on a fly rod.
The saving grace for this portion of river is that it is shallow enough to wade and easy enough to be positioned so the backcast stays clear of leafy tree limbs and other snags.
There is good access from a parking lot at the east end of the bridge on the north side of Route 28. Parkland runs along the river, but the trails are choked with poison ivy, so wearing long pants is important.
The Monocacy has been the focus of a intensive clean-up program, and the area from the boat launch at Dickerson to the confluence with the Potomac is a popular area.
But upriver, beyond Route 28, where crews are stripping and repainting the bridge, the river seems lightly traveled on weekdays. In four hours, from late afternoon to almost dusk, only two other fishermen were seen on the river, and they parked themselves beneath the bridge.
In the murky water, before dusk, a weighted helgrammite caught perhaps a dozen and a half smallmouths and sunfish ranging from 6 to 10 inches by working the shorelines near submerged rocks, tree trunks and the edges of the waterwillow.
By adding two small splitshot to the leader a foot or so above the helgrammite, the fly was better suited to the deeper waters of the main river and a pair of smallmouths close to 12 inches were taken from the tail of a pool less than 100 yards above the bridge.
Closer to dusk, when the fish were starting to dimple the surface, a black popper replaced the helgrammite and the splitshots, and a half-dozen smallmouths from 8 to 13 inches banged the bug in 45 minutes before the mosquitoes came out in force.
I am not an expert with a fly rod, but rivers like this stretch of the Monocacy are great places to develop fly fishing skills, especially in summer, when a minimum of gear is required.
As I recall, three years ago I paid a catalog outfit between $75 and $100 for an 8 1/2 -foot, 7-weight rod, reel, weight-forward floating line, 9-foot, 3X tapered leader and a box of a dozen flies.
Compared to the better rods on the market, the flyrod I generally use feels like a broomstick, but it is serviceable. The line, of course, has been replaced, the leaders changed depending on the type of fishing and the number of flies has multiplied.
And I have to admit that fly fishing for trout on small streams still gives me the willies at times. But bass and sunfish are different.
Smallmouths are not so particular as trout, and the flies and poppers used are not so well defined.
Also, in the summer, when the river flows are low, the fish are spread out and feeding heavily early or late in the day, so you needn't be a super strategist to find fish.
Cast upriver to the edge of the currents and let the fly drift back downstream at a natural rate, taking care to retrieve or strip your line slowly enough that the slack is taken up but the pace of the drift is undisturbed.
During the bright hours of the day, try concentrating on boulders or ledges in the deeper sections of the river where the current breaks and the larger fish are likely to hang out.
In murky water, use dark poppers; in clear water, use white. To fish beneath the surface, it is hard to beat helgrammites or sculpins, no matter the color of the water. But remember to add weight to get them just above the bottom in faster water.
With a 6-, 7- or 8-weight outfit, a handful of white and black popping bugs, helgrammite, crayfish and sculpin imitations and
a minimum of casting practice, one can have a heck of a good time wet-wading a river like the Monocacy.
A tip that might help in wading and seeing fish below the surface is to add pair of polarized brown clip-on sunglasses over a polarized pair of green sunglasses.
The result will be much clearer vision of the river bottom and the haunts of the fish.