Steve Richards and Sam Briggs pulled into rustic old Adelphi Mill at 8:30 Thursday morning. They climbed out of their Volkswagen and hurriedly pulled on foul-weather fishing gear.

"They're gonna catch 'em all before we get there," said Briggs, grabbing for his fishing rod.

With that, the two were off and charging, heading upstream a quater mile to a deep pool in the only trout stream inside Washington's Beltway. They climbed over some rocks to a boulder in midstream, rolled up cheese balls and into them stuck tiny trout hooks.Within 15 minutes, Richards had the first hit and reeled a 10-inch rainbow within arm's length of his free hand before it wriggled free.

There would be more. In three hours of fishing under extremely bad conditions - rain, sleet and show plus high, muddy water - the anglers pulled in three fish from the pool and lost several.

If it was a bad day by their standards, it all considering that two years ago most folks couldn't imagine even ubiquitous bluegill surviving in the murky waters of suburban Maryland's Northwest Branch.

Then last year, with a push from Potomac-Patuxent Trout Unlimited, the state started stocking the branch, which feeds the Anacostia River. It worked. This year, it's working again.

The state considers the water quality adequate to provide fish for the table, and many anglers are taking full stringers home.

State hatchery personnel pulled in at 4 p.m. Tuesday with a load of 3,500 trout in the nine-to 12-inch range. A thousand fish were dropped off at Adelphi Mill, on Riggs Road just north of University Boulevard crossing near the University of Maryland, and the remaining 1,500 were spilt between two stops outside the beltway at Randolph Road and Bonifant Road, both west of New Hampshire Avenue.

The hatchery folks' choices made for a nice cross-section of fishing scenery. Way upstream at Bonifant Road, the water was narrow enough to leap across and the banks are so choked with vegetation they nearly are impassable. Anyone willing to stalk that jungle can just about count on seclusion.

Downstream at University Boulevard, the waters were wide and fast-running. There's easy access and plenty of parking. But one of the most pleasant spots is Adelphi Mill, where a broad path extends a mile upstream through a park along the water's edge.

The fisherman with a pair of glare-reducing sunglasses can walk the path and scan the water below for deep holes like the one Briggs and Richards found.

Fishing the Northwest Branch under current conditions should provide enough challendge for even the discriminating angler. With the water high, muddy and cold it's almost impossible to spot the critters as they hug the bottom. They aren't feeding well yet, and probably won't until the water warms and clears.

They're not sitting in predictable spots, either. Most stocked streams have places where you can just about count on finding fish, but with the water high and fast most of the fish in the branch scattered quickly downstream just after stocking. "Are you sure they put 'em in here?" a passing angler asked Wednesday at Randolph Road. "I heard when the truck came around there was fishermen elbow to elbow around the bridge. And they said you could catch to your limit in an hour."

Not this year, friend.

Instead, some serious research and skill is required to creel fish, even if it remains what highfalutin fly fishermen characterize as cheeseball fishing.

"That's about the only way to get these fish now," said David Woronecki, head of the state coldwater fisheries program and the man behind the stocking program.

"The water's too muddy for them to see a lure or a fly. They've got to hace something they can smell."

If you own a pair of waders, pull them on and wade the stream, but watch out for deep holes. Trout are lying in the still waters just above and below where the water runs fast.

Frank Clark, who picked up three trout quickly Wednesday near Bonifant Road, said he drifted a cheese ball with the current and let it run into an eddy. "They just barely bumbed it," he said. "You have to learn to react to that gentle strike."

Ready? I am. A Maryland State fishing license and trout stamp are required. There is no closed season at Northwest Branch, but the best bet is to get there soon, before local anglers deplete the stock. Next stocking, this time with 3,000 fish, is set for the week of April 2.