After Primary, Nothing Secondary About Fishing

Larry Coburn of Laurel shows off a five-pound catfish that he caught on a fly on the Potomac near Dickerson, Md.
Larry Coburn of Laurel shows off a five-pound catfish that he caught on a fly on the Potomac near Dickerson, Md. (Angus Phillips - Twp)
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By Angus Phillips
Sunday, February 17, 2008

Old Man River, he just keeps rolling along.

"Show Boat"

So, the Potomac Primary is over, leaving us with -- what? Wisconsin, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, conventions, superdelegates, brokered deals in smoke-filled rooms? It makes you want to pull on your boots and go fishing.

That is exactly what we did on Wednesday, to see whether Old Man River had survived his brush with political destiny and what it might look like down in the valley the day after, with the crowds gone and the tears and confetti dried and swept up.

It's a glorious sight in deep, dark winter, our nation's river. Tuesday's storm left the Potomac's forested banks near Dickerson paved with sheet ice and every tree limb, stick and twig encased in a silvery sheath, daylight glinting through. The deer were hard at work, gnawing undergrowth where they could, bounding away soundlessly with white tails flagging when you drew too close.

The great blue heron stood lonely sentry at the tip of an island, waiting for some morsel to drift by in the current, and a half-dozen mallards zoomed around in a phalanx. The kingfisher made its way back and forth over slate gray water; Canada geese honked ceaselessly, waiting for spring so they could finish their nests and hatch out saffron yellow chicks the size of footballs.

We chose Dickerson in upper Montgomery County for good reason. That's where Pepco has an electric generating plant, drawing water from the river to cool the generators, then sending it back out at elevated temperatures.

Smallmouth bass, walleyes, catfish, bluegills and the little critters they feed on converge near the discharge from all around. Even on the coldest winter days when the rest of the river is in hibernation you can generally catch something at Dickerson.

Some days are better than others. Nobody likes to fish in an east wind and freezing rain and snow, but a wise man once said you should fish when you can, and Wednesday was the day we had. We took a roundabout route, up I-270 to Frederick, then back down Maryland Route 85 to the river, to avoid slick back roads in rural Montgomery.

By the time I tugged on chest waders and laced up cleated boots in the parking lot, my fingers were frozen and my wool hat was soaked through. It was a chore to tie on a lure. But the mile-plus hike upriver brought the blood back.

Steam rose from the surface as we neared the Pepco discharge. At the foot of the sluiceway, which whitewater paddlers use to practice their moves on winter weekends, a sign warns anglers to venture no farther. We waded in to our knees and started casting.


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