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Outdoors commentary: Fishing, fun on Casselman River

Four members of Patapsco-Patuxent Trout Unlimited fish the Casselman River.
Four members of Patapsco-Patuxent Trout Unlimited fish the Casselman River. (Bill May photo , Carroll County Times)

When I arrived at the parking spot for my favorite area of the Casselman River I was disappointed to see another car already there. Since this area includes two major pools and some productive riffles, I decided to get into my gear, head for the river and hope for the best. To my surprise, no one was at the first pool, the larger one with more possibilities.

I began fishing with a pair of beadheads. On the third cast I took a decent trout (shown in photo) that put on an admirable five-jump performance on its way to the net. I reluctantly stopped for a quick picture before carefully releasing the trout. Just then the other fisherman came by. "It's all yours," were his welcome words. He told me he got to the river at dawn, waded and fished about a mile-long stretch that included my two pools, and caught 12 trout. He was heading in for breakfast.

Having a prime section of trout stream all to myself is a mixed blessing. The good part is I can fish where and how I want, experiment and foul up without witnesses. The bad part is that it's almost impossible to get decent pictures by myself in a catch-and-release situation. With only Friday available, my plan was to fish a couple of hours in the morning then take pictures of others before returning home. The Potomac-Patuxent Chapter of Trout Unlimited (PPTU) scheduled a club outing that long weekend, and I figured, correctly, their guys would start showing up around noon.

Just as the other angler left, caddis flies began hatching. I switched to a 5X tippet and size 14, tan, Elk Hair Caddis and caught nine more rainbows ranging from five to 14 inches, with the majority in the 10 to 12-inch range. In the clear, shallow waters I could see the trout rocket up to take the fly. I missed almost as many fish as I caught.

After about 40 minutes, the hatch petered out. I switched to a 4X tippet, single, size 14, beadhead Pheasant Tail nymph, and resumed taking trout at a slower pace. One of the PPTU guys showed up, and I invited him to take the whole pool. He made a few, quick casts at the bottom of the pool, then worked his way downstream to a series of riffles. He was still there over an hour later when I left. I took five more trout on the Pheasant Tail nymph, but I had at least that many pop off. Fluorocarbon tippet material, clinch knots and arthritic hands are a bad combination; I could work with monofilament tippets.

I decided I'd pestered the trout - and myself - enough. As I returned to the car to get a late breakfast, two cars of PPTU guys arrived. So I filled them in on this stretch of river, (which one of them knew as well as I did), told them how I did, and walked with them down to the river to get some action shots. Unfortunately, there was almost no action, just a couple of missed strikes in the half hour or so I watched them. I think this lack of activity was due to the fish shutting down; probably all four of the PPTU guys were at least as competent fisherman as I am. In talking with other anglers the previous evening, they all related the trout action just stopped by late-morning.

In the past, the Casselman was known as a big fish river. I caught a 24-inch brown trout there and two rainbows over 20-inches. It appears those trophy trout haven't been stocked the last couple of years, although poaching is also a known problem here. The Casselman operates as a "delayed harvest" stream. Trout are stocked in the fall and the spring, and fishing is strictly catch-and release, artificial lures and flies only, from Oct. 1 through June 15. Since waters warm too much for trout in the summer, harvesting is then allowed June 16 through September 30, and then the cycle is repeated.

It's an easy stream to wade, and fishing is pretty basic. I've had the most success on beadhead nymphs, soft hackles and dry fly and dropper rigs. Fish these on a 4 to 6-weight, 8 to 9-foot rod, floating line and 9-foot leader tapered to 4X or 5X.

But the river and its fishing are just part of the Casselman's appeal. I always stay at the beautiful, historic Casselman Inn. While the restaurant is not four-star, even though their baked good are very good, I just love the peaceful atmosphere of the place. From my dinner table right next to the kitchen I could hear the faint strains of familiar hymns. I commented on this as I paid my bill, which led to a discussion of hymn sings. I'll take that over trout fishing any day.

A couple of blocks to the east is the complex of craft shops comprising Spruce Forest Artisan Village, which includes the pottery shop of my friend, Lynn Lais, and the Penn Alps Restaurant and Craft Shop.

Three even more highly-regarded trout streams are a bit further west in Garrett County - the Youghiogheny, the North Branch of the Potomac and the Savage. Add in Deep Creek Lake for bass, walleye, trout, bluegill and other species. Just driving here from Carroll County takes you through some of the most scenic parts of Maryland, particularly the hills of Frederick, Washington, Allegany and Garrett County, and all four counties are laced with state parks offering beautiful scenery and numerous outdoor activities. The mountains are at their peak during prime fishing seasons of spring and fall.

For further information, see http://visitmaryland.org/ and click on "western" and http://www.visitdeepcreek.com/.

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