There's a place along the banks of the upper Patuxent where Jack Scanlon's daughter loves to sit and watch the river go by.
"Wait til I show you my daughter's throne," Scanlon said last week as he crashed through yet another pile of spring-green brush. "When she sits there, we call her the queen of the Patuxent."
A misnomer, for sure. She's his daughter, so she must be princess of the Patuxent, not queen, because Scanlon is clearly the king of this watery domain.
It's not a big dynasty, just a modest two-mile piece of fast water near Damascus, a half-hour's drive from Washington.But it's peaceful and quiet and utterly different from the crush and clatter of the capital city, where Scanlon works as a pediatrician.
"If I hadn't found this place," Scanlon said, "I'd have had to quit my job."
Earlier this month I received one of the two or three letters I can count on from Scanlon every year, whenever he has a remarkable triumph on the Patuxent. There was a short note and a five-by seven-inch color photograph of a rainbow trout.
In the posed photo, the trout's tail was nestled against the reel seat of Scanlon's little spinning rod and its hooked jaw stretched all the way to the first line guide. It was 17 inches long, a wonderful trout in just about anyone's stream.
"The Patuxent," said the note, "strikes again!"
Pictures like that have a way of making things seem simpler than they really are. I was on the phone quickly and Scanlon agreed to show me his favorite spots again, for the third time. We go through this ritual every year. I always assume I'll catch a mess of trout and I never do.
I arrived at the Hipsley Mill Road crossing at 6 a.m., on schedule, and as usual Scanlon was already there, fully outfitted in chest waders and his overloaded fly fishing vest, patiently tying knots and organizing tackle. He looked as if he'd been waiting an hour.
We set off quickly into the woods of the Patuxent River State Park, which border the river on both sides. Skunk cabbage was newly green and appropriately stinky; new grass and wild-flowers made a soft bed for walking.
The best way to fly-fish for trout is upstream, but Scanlon's favorite spots are downstream so we walked a mile or so before starting back up. Along the way, he described again how he found this place.
"I asked Barry Serviente (who used to own Angler's Art in Georgetown, a fly-fishing store) where I could find some trout close by," he said.
"Barry told me about the Patuxent and I came up here. I fished this stretch for two miles downstream and never even saw a fish. I figured the guy was just trying to sell me flies.
"When I turned around to come back I stopped for a minute and looked at the water. I saw a little fish sort of yellow and balck, dart out between my feet. I figured if they were in there maybe that's what the trout were feeding on.
I had some Matuka flies, which are yellow, so I tied one on and started fishing my way back upstream. It was unbelievable.
"By the time I got back to the car I'd caught and released 30 trout. I was sold. Then when I found out about the native brown trout in here, well, I just fell in love."
The Patuxent between routes 97 and 27 has been designated a "catch and return" trout stream by the state. That means only fly-fishing or fishing with single-hook artificial lures is permitted and all trout under 15 inches must be put back in the water. The angler can keep one fish over 15 inches each day if he's lucky enough to get one.
The state stocks the stream but it wasn't long before Scanlon discovered that there were native brown trout lining there, as well.
"The natives are so different," Scanlon said. They don't follow the rules. They think God wears green pants and throws pellets."
The native trout are generally in places trout ought to be, and catching them is Scanlon's deepest pleasure. "I love to figure out where they are, make a good cast and have them take it right where I think they should."
And then turn them loose to fight again.
Over the years Scanlon has managed to identify the trout-holding spots all along the river section he likes best. He takes people fishing with him and shows them free holes, but he always catches the lions share of the fish.
As he walks he keeps up a steady commentary. "There's the hole where I caught six browns on seven casts two years ago. Haven't caught another one there since.
"There must be two dozen trout in those tree roots. But try to get to them."
"Here's where I caught my 17-inch brown.
"Never got a strike over there. You know what that means. There must be a giant in there, all by himself."
Stalking these trout is his simple pleasure and he'll share it with anyone who bothers to ask. At the end of the day he has no stringer of dead fish to prove his conquests.
Just pleasant memories and a peaceful smile.