After the deluge, good fishing


April 03, 1994|By PETER BAKER

If you have been to streamside a couple of times this spring, chances are pretty good that your fishing has been hindered by high, fast, murky water.

Baltimore had record precipitation in March. Reservoirs are full and spilling over their dams. Some rivers and many streams have been bankful or higher, and flood control systems are on the verge of going out of control in some areas.

But, take heart. Certainly this is the storm before the calm, and come good weather, freshwater fishing promises to be very good -- and in some cases extraordinary.

Charles Gougeon, fisheries biologist and trout specialist with the Department of Natural Resources' Freshwater Fisheries Division, said last week that those who may stand to benefit the most from the high waters are put-and-take trout fishermen.

"Those who have fished early in the spring have found conditions difficult because the water flows have been up, the fish have been hugging the bottom and won't come up readily for baits," Gougeon said.

"They just aren't going to expend the energy to go to the surface to take a spinner or something that is riding high in fast water."

Murky or muddy waters have further diminished the prospects for trout fishermen because trout are primarily sight feeders.

But what those overflowing reservoirs might produce is a mixed bag for fishermen -- stocked trout, panfish, striped bass, Northern pike and walleye -- and some of the areas where these fish could be caught will seem a little unusual.

The reason is that when water passes over the tops of dams, numbers of different kinds of fish pass over with it.

"It will be worth it for fishermen to investigate those waters below Loch Raven, for example, for striped bass, black bass, white perch and a mixed bag of everything between striped bass and trout," Gougeon said.

"On Little Seneca Creek and Little Seneca Lake [in Montgomery County], that is going to be a real hot spot for largemouth bass, crappie and bluegills this year, for fish that have gone over the spillway and down into waters that are currently managed for trout. The same things will happen at Prettyboy, Loch Raven and Liberty reservoirs."

So, what would a nice largemouth bass from Prettyboy be doing in the Gunpowder Falls as it makes it way down to Loch Raven? Undoubtedly it would be just passing through.

"When the bass go over the spillway, they will keep moving downstream until they find a temperature range they like," Gougeon said.

So, catching a bass in the Gunpowder Falls is perhaps unlikely, but fishermen and guides on the river have had occasions when they have caught more white perch than trout, for example.

"In some years like this, there have been white perch and rainbow trout mixed in the river down to Glen Cove, 10 miles downstream," Gougeon said.

A more likely area for unusual catches would be the Patuxent River between Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge reservoirs in Montgomery or Howard counties.

"There have been walleye that have come over the top and into the river below Triadelphia, as well as striped bass and northern pike," Gougeon said. "It can become a Noah's Ark of everything. . . . But when the water levels drop and the temperatures warm up, all those fish will be looking hard for food and there could be some very unusual catches."

Gougeon estimates that in three or four weeks, after the waters have returned to normal levels, water temperatures will have reached springtime norms and "everything will be busting loose."

For put-and-take trout fishermen, that may mean an extended season, even on small streams, where Gougeon said that "stocked fish and fishermen are like magnets and tacks, they just draw them all out in one day."

But with the initial stockings taking place in high, cold water the distribution often has been more spread out than in other years.

The Avalon area of the Patapsco has been stocked with adult trout since 1989, Gougeon said, "but the attraction this year is going to be that the fish are still there by the time we stock again this year. . . . And then around the first part of June, there also will be some great bass fishing as the smallmouths in the area start to turn on."

In the put-and-take areas of the Gunpowder, Gougeon said, the high flows of water which have been over the tops of Loch Raven and Prettyboy dams, should hold great fishing well into June.

In Western Maryland, the season also is well behind schedule, said fisheries biologist Ken Pavol.

"Deep Creek Lake is still almost 100 percent iced in," Pavol said in the middle of last week. "The latest ice out I can remember was April 9, and that was last year. I think it will be later still this year."

A late ice out can mean great spring fishing for walleye, trout and yellow perch, Pavol said, "and there are some monster yellow perch out here."

Bob Lunsford, director of freshwater fisheries, said that although the water has been high on the Potomac River, he does not expect the smallmouth bass population of the river to be adversely effected.

"The Potomac has flooded off and on throughout the years," Lunsford said. "Occasionally we lose a year class. But if these fish spawn successfully every three years, there are still plenty around to keep the numbers up."

The best bet for those freshwater fishermen who can't wait for the fishing to really turn on, Gougeon said, "is to go to the smaller streams that have been stocked and fish close to the bottom.

"The trout have been lethargic so far because they have had to make an adjustment from 54-degree water [at the hatchery] to stream water that has been about 40 degrees -- and when the metabolic rate drops, their activity slows and so does the fishing."

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