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Carroll Outdoors: Fishing smallmouth streams

I can remember back in the day when a high percentage of my fishing involved fishing for stream and small river smallmouth bass and the great sport it provided.

What a joy it was to spend an evening wading in cool waters and catching fish that would always challenge your tackle and skills. Yes, those were great times in the 1980's and 90's. A small group of us stream fanatics would fish any number of creeks and rivers to include the Patapsco, Monocacy, Marsh Creek, Toms Creek, Big Pipe, Conococheague, Evitts Creek, Gunpowder, and Conowago Creek. Yes, we are certainly blessed to live in a 'smallmouth rich' area with so many tributaries of the Potomac and Susquehanna River systems.

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Fast forward to the present, a good friend of mine, Jud Larrimore, tells me that the smallmouth conditions at a local creek are 'just right' and we may be able to cash in on some quality fish. Nothing fancy, but chest waders and a bit of walking and wading efforts will be needed. Light spinning gear and six-pound mono will be the order for tossing 1/16th ounce hairjigs and small crankbaits to pre-spawn fish that have recently turned on. It took little arm-twisting from Jud, and I was back in the game.

Fortunately, we hit the water BEFORE the big rains came in last week, and wading was safe and doable. As you read this, water levels of most Mid Atlantic streams have simmered down, but always check before you go that heavy rains upstream from your fishing site will not cause flash flooding and dangerous conditions.

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Our plan was to bounce the crayfish-imitating jigs down through lighter current areas and throughout expansive, deeper holes in quest of the bass. It was cloudy and calm, about 65 degrees and the water was just slightly stained.

It didn't take long for us to figure out that we had hit the water with all cylinders firing. Indeed, conditions were "just right."

We both hooked and landed 14 inch smallmouths on our first cast. About every third or fourth cast we would either hook a fish or miss a strike. Often, we would feel a strike, miss the fish, then let the jig bounce along on downstream and apparently the fish would follow the jig and we would get a hook up on the 'second chance' strike.

Occasionally, we would pick up a rock bass or a big fallfish, but it was predominantly a smallmouth gig. Man! It was great to be back in the water catching tough fighting bass after such a long sabbatical. I had fallen back in love with these fish once again!

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After having an initial flurry at our first spot, Jud suggested we try downstream a bit where a smaller creek dumped into the main channel and there was a large, slow-moving back eddy where he said big fish roam. Wading was a little tricky here, and we had to position ourselves to cast into the calmer areas. At the very end of one of my cast I hooked a good fish, but it came off during the fight. I had gotten away with this softer, panfish-style rod and figured that I didn't get a good hookset.

Meanwhile, Jud hooked and landed several quality smallies, two of which were 17-inch class fish. It was here where he experimented with a small Rapala crankbait that imaged a minnow. The action was not as fast here, but the promise of bigger fish kept our attention. Eventually, we agreed to head back and take a break before hitting the upstream hotspot before calling it a day. My final score was 23 bass, with many 14 to 17 inch fish. Jud had done better! Wow!

Although we waded with insulated chest waders in the chilly, 60-degree water, many central Maryland and Mid Atlantic streams can be fished from a canoe or kayak. Warmer, summertime efforts can be had by wet-wading. Keep in mind, however, that different states have different regulations about trespass and access to rivers and streams. It is always proper to secure permission from any and all landowners whose property you cross or shorelines you may fish from.

There are, however, many public access points and park facilities along rivers like the Monocacy, Gunpowder, Antietam, Patuxent, Patapsco, Catoctin and other throughout central Maryland. And if you wish to travel west, there is Evitts, Conococheague and the Yough. Perhaps the best source for info on the dynamics and access points to these and many other waters would be "Maryland and Delaware Canoe Trails" by Edward Gertler.

Ask for it in bookstores or order direct from the Seneca Press. Designed for a paddlers guide, it is a fantastic tool for the small stream smallmounth bass angler in our region.

Yes, I know, we are at the doorstep of the Potomac and Susquehanna Rivers, great smallmouth fisheries. They get all the ink, but for my money, I'm gonna slosh around close to home and cash in on this great, light tackle sport offered by smaller, even "no-name" waters that the bass crowds avoid.

Don't make that mistake! You might fall back in love again, too!

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