Try the Gunpowder for smallmouths


July 11, 2004|By Kevin E. Washington | Kevin E. Washington,SUN STAFF

Long before I lived in the Mid-Atlantic, I knew that the Big Gunpowder Falls was a Blue Ribbon trout stream surrounded by luscious woodlands and filled with sassy, almost wild brown trout.

Once I arrived in Baltimore County, I was told that if I wanted to target my other favorite freshwater fish, the smallmouth bass, I needed to take a 40- to 50-minute drive either northeast or southwest to the Susquehanna or the Potomac rivers, both first-rate smallmouth fisheries.

What no one told me before I moved here was that Central Maryland has smallmouth, one of the most prized warm water fly fishing targets, in just about every little trickle.

I've found a spot that offers up lots of smallmouths, if not a few decently sized ones, as well, yet seems almost immune to midweek gully washers. It is the same Gunpowder Falls that is a destination for many brown-trout fly fishermen.

Downstream, it is home to carp, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass and other smaller pan-fish cousins, in addition to stripers and shad at certain times of the year.

In fact, I consider the Gunpowder Falls, below Loch Raven, where it heads southeast to the Bay, to be a great training stream for warm water fly fishermen. It's a locale with plenty of fish that isn't particularly rough to wade.

The Patapsco and Monocacy rivers also are good smallmouth destinations, but I've found that the smallmouths I pick up on the Gunpowder are a tad bigger than the ones I've caught on either of those two rivers.

My average smallmouth on the Patapsco is about 8 inches long. My average Gunpowder smallmouth, after six trips, has been about 12 inches. I've picked up fish there from 6 to 15 inches, with far more in the 12- to 15-inch range than on the other two rivers.

I've also found that the Patapsco and Monocacy -- like the more distant Potomac and Susquehanna -- will get muddy pretty much every time it rains.

What really makes the Gunpowder special, especially with the huge downpours of the past 18 months, is that it will fish fine the morning after a storm dumps rain in its watershed.

It stains up pretty -- which makes the fly fishing a bit easier. When there hasn't been much water coming from the heavens, it can be crystal clear and the fish may be skittish.

Charlie Gougeon, the Central region fisheries manager for the state of Maryland, calls the lower Big Gunpowder an excellent fishery, partly because of the wonderful trails that parallel the river and provide access. The trails and river are in the Gunpowder Falls State Park.

The Gunpowder has a natural stocking program. With all of the water coming from the sky and work being conducted on the dam at Loch Raven, a number of fish are just sliding over the top of the dam when the water spills over. Gougeon says the largemouth bass are daredevils who love to ride over the dam, and thus find their way into the river. If you fish the few slow areas on the river, you'll get largemouths.

If you're going to fish the lower Gunpowder, you'll find parking at Harford Road, U.S. 1 (Belair Road), and Route 7 (Philadelphia Road). My favorite parking area is on the east side of Belair Road, just north of the river. I've hit this stretch on a weekday several times and never seen another fisherman on the trail. Often, joggers and bicyclists are on the trails, so even if you see lots of cars there, you'll probably be fishing alone.

When I show up to fish the Gunpowder, I have poppers in sizes of 4, 6 and 8, but mostly, I bring underwater offerings. Nymphs, crayfish and strip leeches bring more consistent fishing under the tree shade.

My favorite flies are nymphs fished near the bottom, especially when I'm not just targeting bass. My bigger bass come on the larger crayfish imitations and larger minnow imitations.

Fly-fishing guide Mark Kovach advocates throwing large saltwater sized flies to catch bigger smallmouth -- and it works well on the Gunpowder.

I like to get all of my offerings down on the bottom, and I recently discovered a good way to do that. Skip's Originals ( has something called the Toobie, which has magnetized split shot that stick to an application device that pushes the shot into a plastic sleeve to be attached to your leader. The great thing about this is that you no longer have to lose split shot in the stream, your pockets, on the ground -- thanks to the magnetized shot. I've gotten in the habit of never leaving home without a Toobie in my fishing vest.

If you're not sure what to take down to the Gunpowder, Theaux LeGardeur at Backwater Angler in Monkton will fix you up with the proper offerings.

You'll want to take a 5-weight to 7-weight rod. My admonition to all is that if you want to throw bigger flies for the bigger fish, take the 7-weight. If you're just out to enjoy a nice day of fly fishing for everything, take the 5-weight and use small flies that will attract both the larger bass and the medium to large size pan fish.

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