Loading up on the Gunpowder, the best trout stream in Maryland


January 03, 1993|By PETER BAKER

Shortly after noon on New Year's Day, Jim Gracie, Richard Schad and Wally Vait stood in the parking lot at the end of Bunker Hill Road, close alongside a slower section of the Gunpowder River, awaiting the arrival of other members of Trout Unlimited.

"I don't know how many others will show up," Gracie said. "But probably not more than a handful who can pull themselves off the couch and away from college football on television.

"And if no one else shows, that just leaves more fish for us."

Their intention was to start 1993 off right, with a day of fly fishing for brown trout on the stretch of the Gunpowder from the Prettyboy Dam down to the first bridge.

And in truth, we left a lot of fish for whoever else might have happened along. Vait caught the only two trout of the day.

But, then, fishing on New Year's Day for these three was more tradition than task, a renewal of a commitment to trout fishing and trout streams. The Gunpowder, through the close-knit efforts of people like them, has become the best trout stream in Maryland and one of the best on the East Coast.

But it was not always so.

Seventeen years ago, when Trout Unlimited and Save Our Streams, a waterways conservation group, began to intensify their interest in the Gunpowder it was a marginal stream gurgled along the watercourse between Prettyboy and Loch Raven reservoirs.

Gracie, president of the Maryland Chapter of Trout Unlimited, was among the original group of fishermen and conservationists who lobbied and labored to build up the Gunpowder.

Now, when he walks its shoreline or wades its riffles and pools, a sense of satisfaction surrounds him.

Gracie and others like him have slowly brought the bureaucratic walls that surrounded the water course to rubble.

And these days a trout river runs through it.

"But it took a lot of work to get this done," Gracie says while positioned atop a streamside boulder and repeatedly drifting a cream-colored, foam egg down a chute into a small eddy beneath the rock.

"You would not believe how hard it was to convince people -- biologists and bureaucrats -- that something like this would work.

"And, frankly, I am not sure we ever thought it would work as well it has."

The key to any improvement of this stretch of the Gunpowder was and is the Baltimore City Department of Public Works. That department controls the upriver (Prettyboy) and downriver (Loch Raven) reservoirs, which fill or empty the stream.

In 1983, a 10-year agreement was reached between Trout Unlimited and the city to guarantee a minimum flow in the river and from there a trout fishery has grown to almost astonishing proportions.

"In the upper section," said Vait, who guides parties and spent more than 100 days on the river last year, "the 1991 survey showed 200 pounds of fish per acre, stepping down in proportion until you get to about 60 pounds per acre in the lower stretches."

Gracie, Schad and Vait agree that if a greater minimum flow can be guaranteed when a new deal is made with Public Works, then the Gunpowder will be able to sustain even greater numbers of fish.

"Even at the current minimum," Gracie said, "the [population] curve is still rising.

"We have gotten the hatchery fish out of here and the wild browns have adapted well, they have sorted themselves out into feeding areas so that there is a minimum of direct competition for food. They are growing fat and healthy because of it."

Growing well enough that on New Year's Day the parking lots were full and the watercourse studded with fishermen all pleased with the river running through it.

Winter tips for the Gunpowder

Wally Vait, who guides along the Gunpowder in all seasons, suggests the following for winter fishing:

The better areas to fish are those nearer the Prettyboy dam, because the water is warmer and the midge habitat is better.

At this time of year it is best to fish when your waters of choice will receive the longest exposure to direct sunlight.

Currently, the midge hatch is sparse, but in the next two weeks or so, it will start expanding and small black stoneflies (sizes 18 to 20) will be out on bright, sunny days.

Other cold-weather standbys are mayfly nymphs, blue-winged olive-type flies and sulphur nymphs (sizes 16, 18 and 20), gold ribbed hare's ears, pheasant tail nymphs and midge larval patterns (sizes 20 and 22).

When deciding where to fish, check the water level. Trout will find the same feeding stations no matter the season, if the water level is comparable.

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