Two dedicated fishermen in close-in Maryland are Jay Sheppard and Jack Scanlon. Both fish the Patuxent River special trout area above Triadelphia Reservoir because it's handy and loaded with stocked fish and a few naturally reproducing brown trout.
That the Patuxent lacks a little in charm doesn't faze them. A week or so ago they shook out the winter creaks with some fly-fishing in the big pool above Howard Chapel Road. It was a gray and gloomy day.
"Jeez, I hope I don't get a sunburn," Scanlon said, peering through the screen of spitting rain.
They walked a quarter-mile across a wet field of corn stubble and through a tangle of greenbriers to the banks of the big pool. Sheppard gave a quick discourse on the best fishing spots.
"I'll start here," he told Scanlon. "You go up and fish below the riffle."
"I think I see some trout rising," Scanlon said, pointing to ripples expanding in wider and wider circles in the still water.
Sheppard stared a few seconds, then dispatched the rings.
"Sewer gas," he said. "It'll fool you every time."
The best spot in the big pool is at the base of a huge boulder that sticks out into the stream. You can stand on the boulder and fish upstream and down. The only problem is that it's so obviously a good spot it attracts attention.
Last fall Sheppard helped floatstock the Patuxent special area, hiking down the river and letting out trout from a float box at appropriate places, including a large number at the big boulder.
While fishing a month later he was dismayed to find a couple of youngsters fishing there with bait. The special area is for fly-fishing only, and anglers are permitted to keep only one fish over 15 inches per day. Since there are very few 15-inch fish in the stream, a keeper fish is a real prize.
The youngsters, who were fishing for food, obviously didn't know the rules. Sheppard, a gentle soul, asked them if they were aware that bait-fishing was illegal in that stretch. They said they were.
"Then why are you fishing with bait?" he asked.
"We're not," they said. "We're using cheese balls."
Their view was that bait meant "worms and minnies." Sheppard lobbied for a broader interpretation.
But his heart really fell when the youngsters told him about the wonderful stringer of fish they'd caught on their cheese balls. A whole mess of trout, they said.
Sheppard thought about 200 trout he'd stocked there the month before, took a deep breath and nodded his head. The boys hoisted a heavy string out of the water with a dozen squirming fish attached.
"My heart stopped for a second," Sheppard said. Then he realized that the "trout" actually were suckers and fall fish, trash fish native to the stream.
The close-in Maryland suburbs do not boast the most impressive trout waters in the world. Many designated trout streams are more naturally suited to sucker and bluegill fishing than pursuit of trout, the delicate prince of cold, clear water.
But Marylanders want trout anyway, and they get them by virtue of the state stocking truck. Soon meat fishermen in the Free State will begin descending on streams and a number of ponds near Washington for the ritual known as opening day.
Trout season opens in a few designated places next week, though the precise day depends on the weather. Assuming there is no downpour, by March 11 stocking trucks should have made their first deliveries at Northwest Branch in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, at Lake Needwood near Norbeck, at Allens Pond near Bowie and Mellwood Pond near Andrews Air Force Base.
These are places where the state's objective is to get trout in and out of the water as fast as possible. For that reason no closed season is set aside to let the trout get acclimated to the waters and create a more challenging, natural fishing situation. Fishing starts the minute the truck deposits its load.
The most successful program of this sort is at Northwest Branch, which is stocked at various access points from Bonifant Road south to University Boulevard. The program started four years ago and for the last two years crowds have gathered along the branch, waiting for the trucks to arrive.
Next week should provide more of the same as folks queue up to get their legal limit of five fish.
Other popular areas have a two-week closure before fishing is permitted. Little Seneca Creek near Germantown and the regular Patuxent area 1 1/2 miles below Brighton dam will be closed for stocking until March 21, when the lines of anglers will form on their banks.
Virginia streams open April 4. For complete information on designated trout streams, closure dates and limits and regulations, check the handbook that is issued with every fishing license in both states.