Widewater, the beautiful place with the beautiful name, is wide once more.
Hurricane Agnes saved one of her crulest blows for this remarkable stretch of the C&O Canal below Great Falls, where the water is deep and clear, and bass, crapple and bluegill are plentiful.
Agnes lifted levels in the summer of 1972 where the rushing water barely passed below Chain Bridge and wavelets were lapping up and over K Street in Georgetown.
Tree trunks and other debris were carried into the C&O and hurtled down the narrow passage, smashing locks, bridges and the dikes that separated the canal from the river.
One of the worst breaks was at Widewater, which is the deepest section at 60 feet and looks more like a lake than a canal.
Two locks were smashed, the tow-path was pierced at two points and when the floodwaters receded Widewater was narrow water, 20 feet down from normal levels at the bottom of a rock-strewn stream bed.
Five years and $1 million later, Widewater if restored. The National Park Service said "rewatering" began in June and was completed in the last few weeks. Today the waterway is a good 60 yards across from the rebuilt towpath to the rocky western shore, and it's as pretty a sits as you're likely to find within 10 miles of the nation's capital.
It's actually the second reopening. The section was refilled a year ago but had to be drained last winter when sinkholes developed in the restraining walls.
Widewater begins about a half-time up the towpath from the parking lot on Canal Road across from the Old Anglers Inn. It's withing walking distance from the Great Falls park in Maryland.
What to do when you get there?
Fish, for one thing. And [WORD ILLEGIBLE] want to fish properly you'll arrive before dawan and watch the world come alive in a very private place. You'll see steam rising from the still water and bluegills feeding in the shallows next to shore.
Barry Serviente and his trusted assistant, David Malakoff, were there armed with fly rods to do battle with Widewater's residents.
"If you could just forget how you got here, you'd think were out west or up in Canada somewhere," said Serviente.
Malakoff was up ahead, already well into his futile teenage battle to burn up surplus energy. The anglers were working the shoreline the way you would any good bass waters. Using deer-hair frogs and wooly worm flies they casted along the bank as they worked their way upstream.
"They'll take it on the first cast or not at all," said Malakoff. That made his chances a lot better than Serviente's, since Malakoff was the first one through each stretch of water.
But it was the older man who got the first bass of the day, a healthy largemouth of close to keeper size, about 11 inches. "He came up and nailed it just when it hit the water," said Serviente.
That was they hit all morning, and by 11 a.m. the anglers had five bass, but none was bigger than the first. That stands to reason, fishing the surface at this hot time of the year.Most fish, and all the big ones, presumably were deep in the cooler waters. Anglers using spinning rigs and plastic worms almost certainly would do better.
"I've seen plenty of fly fishermen down here but I've never seen one with a big fish," said Spitty Dawson of Cabin John, who has fished the canal around Widewater for 25 years.
Most of the 186-mile canal was dug by hand-laborers to provide Washington with a water link to Harper's Ferry and points beyond. Widewater is unique because it's part of the actual Potomac stream bed.
Its depth and the rocky walls on either side make it good fishing water, with plenty of structure for game fish to hide in. The best-looking waters are actually on the inaccessible west side, and it looks like the angler willing to haul a canoe or john boat down to get to untired waters would improve his chances.
For those who don't care to fish, Widewater has one other attraction - the Billy Goat Trail. This rough hiking path leads down to the Potomac from the towpath along some of the roughest terrain Washington's river has to offer. Wear stout shoes and be prepared to work.
It's woth it. There are a couple of spots where the trial leads to spectacular views of the craggy Mathew Gorge, well known to whitewater-canoe enthusiasts.
And there are some river fishing holes the angler will have a hard time passing up if he brings his tackle on the trail. Malakoff and Serviente took the hike and almost had heart attacks when they came upon a half-dozen hugh carp breaking the surface of the Muddy waters as they fed on flies.
The anglers worked hard, but couldn't get, a strike. No matter. They just went back to the canal and caught another hundred thousand bluegill.