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Angus Phillips

How to Make a Good Day Great

By Angus Phillips
Sunday, April 3, 2005; Page E03

THURMONT, Md.

The rule of thumb for spring trout fishing is that you go when buds on the trees are the size of a mouse's ears. But what if the time comes and those buds still haven't popped?

This drawn-out spring is getting on everyone's nerves with all its rain, cold and overcast skies. We're lucky to get one day a week of good weather, and lately that's been coming in the middle, when most folks can't break free.


Larry Coburn of Laurel gets a trout in a Frederick County stream. There are four county streams that are stocked with rainbow and brown trout. (Angus Phillips For The Washington Post)

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Last week's lone, fine spring day came Wednesday, when storm clouds parted and a pale sun broke through. The bad weather hadn't kept Maryland's spring trout stocking program from moving ahead, and freshly stocked brown and rainbow trout lay hungry in scores of streams across the state.

There wasn't a mouse's -ear in sight as we headed west to Frederick County, past fields still winter-brown and a few flocks of reluctant geese that had chosen not to fly north. (Migratory Canadas generally leave around St. Patrick's Day; anything left after that is pretty much staying put.)

If you wanted signs of spring you had to crack the car windows and slow down in low, swampy places, where peeper frogs were singing their blessed little hearts out.

Our aim was to hit all four of Frederick's stocked mountain trout streams -- Friends, Owens, Middle and Fishing Creeks -- or as many as we could before the weather turned foul again. The brains of the operation was my regular trout fishing companion, Larry Coburn, who long ago graduated to flyfishing for wild trout in more challenging waters but admitted a certain nostalgia for the time when he came to Frederick on opening day and headed home to Laurel with a stringer of fresh trout for the pan.

Maryland's opener last weekend was a washout as cold rain lashed the hillsides, and the deluges left most downstream fishing holes muddy and unfishable. But mountain streams clear first, having less land to drain, and Coburn promised we'd find bright water up in the hills.

I am sworn to secrecy about the exact locations we visited, as every trout fisherman has his secrets, but we managed to get to three of the Frederick County streams, sometimes via twists and turns on small-scale maps, and found plenty of stocked trout and a few wild brook trout in them.

It was gorgeous countryside. Frederick County is booming, regrettably, as the suburbs creep west, but townhouse developments have yet to make it into the hills, and much of what we explored was as wild as West Virginia.

It's legal to use bait in put-and-take streams and we brought a little jar of salmon eggs, but our aim was to try first with flies, which wound up being all we needed. Coburn had tied a handful of small honey bugs -- pale yellow grub imitations -- but as soon as he saw the conditions he put them away.

The creeks were clear but running so hard you had to watch your step to keep from being swept away. Cold water cascaded noisily over rock ledges and formed swirling pools at every obstruction. "With all this water, you need something bigger to attract them," he mused, extracting a large, weighted woolly bugger from his pack. Following his instructions, I tossed the olive-green fly cross-current, let it swing, then twitched it enticingly in front of a log-jam. Bang! Out came Mister Trout.

Rainbows were stacked there, and within a half-hour I'd taken a five-fish limit of plump 11- to 13-inchers. We cleaned them by streamside and packed them away for transport home, then headed downstream to try our hand in smaller holes.

"This is my favorite way to fish for trout, working the stream and hitting these little pockets" said Coburn, who hopped from rock to boulder to bank, reading the water ahead and casting into small swirls and eddies where trout were likely to lurk, waiting for their dinner to wash by.


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