Rocky Gorge is everything its name implies.

It's beautiful.

It's wild.

It's rocky.

It has hillsides of evergreens and hollows where tulip poplars soar to scratch the sky. It has deer and foxes and bird life that is startling.

It has rules to bar noisy powerboats and irksome swimmers. Is shoreline is wild forest almost everywhere you go.

When I make the 20-minute drive to Rocky Gorge I always feel as if I've ventured 1,000 miles from home, exploring a Canadian wilderness lake for the first time. On a weekday there seldom are more than two or three other explorers, smoothly piloting along the glassy water in a canoe or electric-powered johnboat.

There is no way to cover even half of the huge lake in a day, and for the adventurer who likes to probe the coves and creeks, two miles of shoreline can occupy all the hours from dawn to dusk.

So what's wrong with Rocky Gorge?

No fish.

I've tried it in spring, summer and fall. I've tried it when the fish reports from the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, which operates the reservoir, left my heart thumping.

"Seven-pound bass," the reports say. "Ten-pound northern pike hitting minnows in the coves."

Last week I tried it with an obsessed angler who has been fishing there for better than a decade. Mike Farnham shares the WSSC's optimism.

"You keep working that lure like that," he said, watching a top-water plug scoot across a cove, "and you better keep both feet in the boat. That big pike's gonna drag you overboard."

That was at 9 a.m. At noon he pointed to a shoreline where rocks dropped off to deep water. "When dogwoods are in bloom the bass will boom," he said. "Now hold on when you cast in there."

At 4 p.m. he piloted the boat into a shallow cove. "You probably can't believe there's pike in that little water," he said. "Well, get ready."

And at 6, as we headed back to Scott's Cove towing a sorry little stringer of two bass that barely broke a pound apiece, he hadn't lost a bit of his fervor.

I say sorry, but you can have Rocky Gorge fishing.

When I go back I'm taking a pair of binoculars, a long lens for the camera, plenty to eat and plenty to drink. And no fishing gear.

Farnham hadn't been 15 minutes into the day when we spotted our first shocker. A mature bald eagle soared across the bow of the boat, then dove and skimmed across the water looking for fish to feed on.

The big bird lifted again as we drew nearer, soared high and perched on a dead tree overhanging the water. We were within 75 yards before it took off again. We saw the bird off and on all day.

In a nearby cove we drew close to the shoreline and found a green heron, its peaked topknot framed against the blue sky, hopping from branch to branch to ease away from us.

We startled turtles off their logs and watched something (a fish?) send minnows into flights across the water.

Mallard ducks cruised the deep channel of the old Patuxent riverbed.

Buzzards and ospreys soared.

On shore we found deer tracks. And though foxes kept their distance, we knew they were somewhere watching, too.

All this was close to home, on Rte. 29 halfway to Columbia, Md.

Back at Scott's Cove we hauled the johnboat out and met two workingmen on their way to try the fishing at dusk.

"Do any good?" one asked.

"Two small bass," said Farnham.

"No pike?"

"No pike."

"Weird," said the workingman. "I caught one 39 inches down here last weekend. They're in the coves thick right now."

They'll have to show me before I'm a believer. An I don't intend to look. CAPTION: Picture, Mike Farnham reluctantly displays results of nine hours fishing the waters of Rocky Gorge-two pint-sized largemouth bass. By Angus Phillips - The Washington Post