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Outdoors commentary: Maryland trout as you like it

"A stocked fishery is a shadow of the real thing, but it can fulfill a need and ... it takes nearly all the pressure off the small feeder creeks where the trout are wild."

-John Gierach in "No Shortage of Good Days"

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Trout stocking of Maryland streams ended last week, and, for many local fishermen, that marked the end of trout fishing until the stocking of lesser numbers of trout in October.

Elitist fishermen, many reflecting Gierach's view, are happy to see the departure of the "Powerbait and spinner crowd."

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The "real" trout fishing, in this view, is now underway, with the famous hatch of sulphurs (Ephemerella Dorothea and related species) cranking up for a 4 to 6 weeks of dry fly/emerger action on the Gunpowder.

But there are all kinds of fishermen, and before the elitists get too smug, perhaps it's time for a more realistic look at the local situation.

"America in Miniature," a slogan created in the 1950's to booster Maryland tourism, is not without basis. The state does have a great variety of geography, but only comparatively small portions, mostly in the western counties of the state, support "natural" trout fishing.

Even the famed Gunpowder is to a degree, artificial in that it is a tailwater, a stream below a dam with controlled cold water releases.

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The same is true of three of the big four of Western Maryland streams, and all these streams are stocked, so they hold a mixture of stocked adults, stream reared (river grown) and stream bred fish.

Actually the tailwater and stocking situations apply to the majority of the famous trout streams in this country.

Scattered through central and Western Maryland are a number small streams holding native brook trout and sometimes brown and rainbow trout.

These natural trout waters are often, and wisely, closely-guarded secrets by small stream aficionados who are nearly as much hikers and explorers as fishermen.

So Maryland has basically three types of trout waters.

Put-and-take streams - and ponds - are stocked and fishing is allowed, sometimes after a period of closure after stocking, with any bait, lure, fly or legal tackle. These waters are a real boon to the casual angler and to younger and older anglers.

The Patapsco River is such a stream, but even the Gunpowder has put-and-take sections. Delayed harvest streams are a second option. In these waters, only artificial lures and flies may be used, and fish may be kept only from June 15 through Sept. 30.

The reason for these rules is that some of these waters, such as the Casselman, become too low and warm in summer to support trout. Finally, catch-and-release streams, such as most of the Gunpowder and all of Morgan Run, allow only fishing with artificial lures and flies, and all trout must be released.

So local anglers have a variety of waters with fishing as simple or as complicated as one desires. The only downside is that the fishing in the most easily accessible areas of the put-and-take waters usually lasts only a week after stocking.

I spent some time this spring fishing and observing at several locations of the Patapsco. I used fly tackle and nymphs, spinning tackle and spinners and even tried a form of PowerBait.

I took trout with all three methods. The big appeal of the Patapsco is that it's nearby, 10 minutes from home in my case, and doesn't demand a lot of tackle and preparation. Using an ultralight spinning rod with 4-pound test line and No. 1 Mepps spinners and fishing only from shore, I was able to take 2-trout limits at several spots in the Daniels area and a 5-trout limit at the Avalon area. I released most of the fish.

When I did break out the fly rod and waders I had similar results, and the beadhead nymphs produced a number of decent sunfish as well.

I watched and photographed a pair of older anglers at Avalon who used spinning rods and PowerBait to take their limits in a couple of hours. They fished from the bank and often sat on their 5-gallon plastic buckets while they let their bait do the work. When they left I could still see some fish in the hole and decided to give spinners a try. I took three trout in five casts, then gave the fish, the spinner and full access to the pool to a younger angler who was having no success nearby.

While such easy fishing, is over until fall, trout fishing is available year-round on many waters, even on some put-and-take and delayed harvest streams, for anglers willing to walk, to wade and to fish with more sophisticated methods.

Ric Boulin likes to explore remote areas of nearby streams like the Patapsco, Morgan Run and the Middle Patuxent. In his latest foray on the Patapsco he reported catching trout, smallmouth and sunfish by swinging a small wooly bugger on fly tackle. Ric also scores with light spinning tackle using spinners and tiny tube and grub lures.

The Gunpowder is usually more demanding, with light fly rods, 10 to 13-foot leaders tapered to 6x or 7x and tiny flies in the size 18 and smaller range required. But even here I know of successful anglers who fish here using big size No. 4 and No. 6 streamers on fly tackle and tiny jigs on fly or spin tackle.

They may not catch many trout, but they do take some big browns.

So, if you like to fish for trout in our area, follow the rules and start out with what you have. There are opportunities for those willing to put in the time.

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