High water keeps Potomac fishing at low



Fishing guide Ken Penrod said he never has seen a year like this one on the upper Potomac River -- not in more than 30 years has the river been so high so long.

But, said Penrod, it appears that conditions on the river above threat Falls finally are improving, and through the fall fishermen probably can expect the excellent smallmouth bass fishing they have become accustomed to over the years.

"I'd like to believe we have turned the corner," said Penrod, whose Life Outdoors Unlimited fishing and hunting guide service runs almost daily trips on the river in normal years. "I'll tell you how bad the river has been: I have done five trips so far [this year], and we should have had 300 by now."

Penrod, who has a cabin at Lander and who taught his children and many others to fish on the river, said even though it is Labor Day Weekend, on the river "it is like a spring height rather than fall or summer."

First there were the spring floods from snow melt and storm runoff, then there was the wet, cool spring and the wet summer. The result was a constant high pool that has made it tough to boat - much less wade -the rocky stretches of the river, which hold the best smallmouth fishing.

This spring's flood was considered a 100-year nood, said Penrod, adding that it was far worse than the deluges of 1972 and 1983, which also were considered once in-a-century occurrences.

"And when we get those floods, the bass suffer," said Penrod. "When the river gets 16, 18, 20 feet over normal, the woods along the shoreline flood.... And it really becomes a kiting field out there."

Fish, beset by a current they cannot withstand in the normal watercourse, take to the flooded timber, where the current becomes fragmented and there is shelter and food.

"Unfortunately, a lot of the bass that head into the woods never find their way out," said Penrod, conservation chairman for the Maryland Bass Federation, an organization of hard-fishing, conservation-minded bass fishing clubs throughout the state.

When the river gets as high as it did during this year's spring

floods, the ruins of the C&O Canal fill and provide what appears to be a haven for many fish. But as the flood waters recede and river levels drop, sections of the canal remain filled with water and fish.

"That canal killed a lot of fish this year," said Penrod, who with MBF members, volunteers and DNR fisheries personnel trapped and transferred many thousands of fish from the canal back to the river proper this spring. "That ditch was a mistake when it was built, and it is a mistake now," said Penrod. "Something has to be done to correct the problem."

MBF and state and federal officials have scheduled meetings to determine what steps might be taken to minimise the impact of the canal on f sheries, said Penrod. The first meeting is scheduled this week.

The C&O Canal runs for more than 180 miles along the north bank of the Potomac from Washington to Cumberland and for the most part the barge canal that never was a commercial success ready is no more than a ditch that gathers rainwater and breeds mosquitoes and flies:

"I can see that people want to retain the towpath that runs along the canal," said Penrod, "and they should have that because it is a great place to walk, run or ride a bike-but the ditch, the ditch should just be filled in."

Among the more likely possibilities, said Penrod, is the 'u installation of culvert systems at strategic points along the canal, which would avow water and fish to return to the main stem of the river in the event of another 100-year flood.

"But, you know, this is three of those in my time on the river," said Penrod. "So, while we're all at it, maybe someone needs to rebuild the definition of '100-year flood,' too."

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