If you've always thought it was poor fishery management to dump hatchery-raised trout into a few big pools near the road, take heart. Jay Sheppard and his cohorts on the Maryland Coldwater Coalition have done something about it.
The federal government recently gave Maryland a tenth of a million brown trout from the Claybank Hatchery in southern Virginia. The Coldwater Coalition - a lobbying and adisory group composed of representatives from state chapters of Trout Unlimited and the Federation of Fly Fishermen - stepped in with a new plan for distributing some of the trout so they wouldn't all get plopped into a few roadside pools.
It's called float stocking, and the Department of Natural Resources jumped at the Coalition's offer like a trout at a mayfly. Some 7,000 of these 9- to 12-inch trout are now finning in secluded pools miles from the nearest parking lot in stretches of Morgan Run and the Patuxent River.
Several criteria were used to decide which streams would receive them. The main requirement was a capacity to sustain holdover trout populations at least through summer months, and preferably into fall, winter and spring. The second stipulation was that the streams be managed under catch-and-return regulations. Only one fish a day may be creeled on these waters, and it must measure at least 15 inches.
The coalition hopes these float-stocked fish will evolve a bit closer to their distant cousins, truly wild trout, by confronting the rigors of life in a natural stream. Trout that are stocked in a few pools one week and snatched out the next don't have much chance to grow chary and elusive - qualities the serious trout fisherman finds vital to a truly satisfying angling experience.
While Morgan Run and the Patuxent aren't in the same league as the Yellowstone or Battenkill, the members of the coalition felt those were the best close-in choices for the float stockings.
A recent agreement stipulating that Brighton Dam on Tridelphia must release at least 11 cubic feet of water per second will make the Patuxent particularly suited for quality brown-trout fishing. The water comes from the dam at 60 to 65 degrees - prime surface-feeding range for browns.
The advantages of float stocking are many. Fishing pressure will be spread out substantially. The fish will be better able to take advantage of the food supplies the streams have to offer - nymphs, larvae, terrestrial insects, minnows and the like.And for those who favor the sound of rushing water over road traffic, the benefits are obvious; You'll be able to find relative solitude astream, without giving up the trout that are normally more abundant near the roads where the hatchery trucks stop.
Though float stocking has been used frequently in Pennsylvania and a few other states, the method was new to Maryland. A 1' x 1' x 2' injection-molded plastic box was lined with soft foam plastic to make it float. Volunteers met the hatchery trucks at stream crossings and 150 lively trout were dumped into each box. Every deep hole, choice run and sunken log got a ladleful of flopping fish as the anglers walked the boxes downstream.
Sheppard was particularly glad the trout were browns. "Brookies can't stand high temperatures and rainbows are too migratory. Browns are more sedentary. If you put them in a good pool, they should stay put."
A lack of suitable streams and sufficient manpower prevented stocking all 100,000 trout, but many other streams with good holdover potential received fish via the traditional trucks and buckets. Among the better ones, says Sheppard, are Sideling Hill Creek, near Hancock, the Sabage River in Garrett County and Beaver Creek in Washington County.
Fishing on all these streams should be at its peak over the next few weeks. Heavy spring rains have kept water levels up, which means the trout aren't as skittish and difficult to approach now as they will be in midsummer.
The limited amount of hatches these waters have to offer are also emerging now."The first dry fly I'd start with for almost all of these streams," says Sheppard, "would be something small, dark and buggy-looking."
"A little black caddis is the most important early hatch on these waters. It should start any day now. In most of our Piedmont streams it'll last through July 4th."
Sheppard recommends a No. 18 elk hair caddis or similar pattern. "There's also a black stonefly that comes off, roughly the same size, and black ants are abundant along all of these streams."
The predominance of these dark, scurrying and fluttering insects also explains the enduring popularity of the black gnat, which works well in sizes 16 to 20. Also productive are stonefly nymphs," says Sheppard, "but it's tough fishing."
Beaver creek, a lovely limestone stream near Hagerstown that once featured dense beds of watercress and a thriving population of native trout, offers a hatch of cream-colored size-18 mayflies. This creek springs from the earth at 52 degrees, making it one of the better trout streams in the state, even though the natives are gone.
Finally, Sheppard points to the Green Drake hatch on the Savage River for top-notch fly fishing. It should get underway around May 15th. These are the giants of the mayfly clan, measuring close to an inch in length. Tie a strong tippet on your leader when fishing this hatch. It draws some monsters up.