Hunting trout on the Gunpowder


December 05, 1993|By PETER BAKER

HEREFORD -- Wally Vait pointed to a rack of antlers set atop a display case in his fly fishing shop on Monkton Road and recalled the last time he had been deer hunting.

"It was in southern Oregon," Vait said, "and I was the downhill man among four working the side of a ridge. Well, after awhile, I figured that I wasn't going to get any action in that position, so I sat down on a stump.

"Next thing I know, here comes this black-tailed deer creeping down the hillside -- low to the ground and almost crawling -- right to where I was sitting. . . . And after taking that deer, I figured it couldn't get any better and I gave it up."

Vait's last deer hunt was in the 1970s, and these days he makes his living from On The Fly, a shop a short distance from the catch-and-release trout sections of the Gunpowder River.

On Thursday, Jim Phillips and I had stopped in On The Fly to see what parts of the Gunpowder were hot and what flies might be best.

Vait had good news and bad -- the river was down after heavy rain the previous weekend, but it still was up, slightly cloudy and fast.

"I think your best bet is nymphs fished close to the bottom in the deeper runs," Vait said and recommended glow bugs and red squirrel nymphs. "The problem is going to be keeping close to the bottom."

Vait said that the upper stretch of the Gunpowder, below the Prettyboy Dam, was probably a very good choice and sent us out with a handful of flies and a word of caution.

"Keep close to the bottom and you will catch fish, but the numbers aren't going to be great -- maybe only one or two," Vait said.

Well, if the numbers weren't going to be great, reasoned Phillips, a free-lance writer from Annapolis who often fishes the Gunpowder, why not try the new catch-and-release section near Masemore Road?

Fine with me, since fly fishing the Gunpowder always has served to reinforce the fact that tree is a four-letter word. Invariably, when Phillips and I go to the Gunpowder, I decorate the streamside brush and trees with nymphs and streamers.

But Phillips usually catches trout, and this past spring and summer he spent much time working the riffles and runs in the area above and below the bridge on Masemore Road, which before this year had been open to bait fishermen.

"I have my average up to seven per day here," Phillips said as we left the car at the parking area near the bridge and waded into the river. "I think part of the reason is that I can spend more time fishing and less time following those billy goat trails in the upper section.

"And down here there seem to be more brown trout, while up near the dam there seem to be more rainbows. The browns down here aren't very big yet -- maybe seven to nine inches, but by next year they should be 11 or 12."

On his second cast, Phillips took a small brown trout from the head of the first riffle below the bridge, and he had another take on his third or fourth cast before we split up, leap-frogging from riffle to run downstream.

As we would pass one another, each would ask for an update, but while Phillips generally had news of some sort -- a take, a miss a catch -- my responses were reduced to grunts or murmurings as the day went on.

"You don't really have to cast this," said Phillips, who fishes nymphs differently than a lot of people, many of whom cast upstream. "You just kind of flip it out, three-quarters upstream, so that it drifts downstream at the rate of the current and strip line a couple of inches at a time.

"Do it and you can't help but catch a brown. I just took another one from the head of that same riffle. That makes five."

I grumbled something about the oddity of a sport in which one needs a magnifier to see the hook eye of a fly and 5-year-old's fingers to position and crimp a minuscule split shot, and trundled off toward the fabled riffle.

Within minutes, I was having the time of my life -- thigh deep in fast water and battling the most incredible tangle of nymph, split shots and strike indicators I ever have encountered.

My miseries aside, Phillips was doing well, although he said this part of the river has changed with the seasons and the recent rains.

Where in late August, for example, the best fishing for browns had been in the areas of faster flow where the water is well oxygenated, the fish now are in slower, deeper water.

And with the river running higher than normal, the nymphs and split shots are effective in getting into the strike zone.

The torrents of water that charged down the watercourse earlier in the week have recut and reshaped sections of river bottom and moved trees that blocked the flow and created holding areas for trout.

"But you know, that is what makes this river so interesting," Phillips said as we peeled off our waders. "Whenever I come here, something is different.

"It makes me a hunter for trout, and that is what this is all about, finding the fish and then figuring out how to catch them."

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