When Joe Bruce and I went to launch kayaks at Liberty Reservoir early on Memorial Day, we found dozens of anglers had beaten us to it. The road leading to the main ramp was lined with trucks and SUVs with trailers. When we tried the ramp nearer to the Liberty Road Bridge we arrived just in time to meet a group of 10 or so canoe and kayak anglers launching. Another half-dozen pulled in while we watched them launch and considered our options.
We only had a couple of hours, and we could see these folks heading for some of the nearby spots we were planning to fish, so we called it a day. Since we’re both semi-retired, we figured we could return when we’d have less company and competition — on the unlikely assumption there will be some weekdays this year with decent weather.
This scene summarizes the fishing situation on the Baltimore City reservoirs, Liberty (3100 surface acres), Prettyboy (1500 surface acres) and Loch Raven (2100 surface acres). All three have large areas off limits to boating and fishing. Likewise all three stipulate that watercraft used on these three waters may not be used elsewhere; the purpose for this restriction is to prevent the introduction of zebra mussels into the waters and reservoir equipment. A yearly $60 boat permit must be purchased with stickers affixed to the boat and a permit card carried by the boater.
There are size and type of craft restrictions, including 12- to 20-foot lengths with no inflatables allowed. The 1,800 yearly Liberty permits are also good for Prettyboy. Loch Raven requires a separate permit. These are tough to get, because the number is very limited, and renewals are granted first. For general boating requirements, click here. For Loch Raven regulations, click here.
As hinted above, there are two major groups of fishermen with much different boats and approaches. The hard core reservoir fishermen have aluminum (usually) or fiberglass boats at or near the 20-foot maximum length. These boats are beamy, deep and loaded with batteries, usually 12 or more, to run a powerful stern electric motor, a nose (trolling or steering) motor one or more depth finders and other electronics. Typically two anglers fish these rigs, each with multiple tackle bags and up to a dozen rigged rods apiece.
When I fish with Harry Pippin, a 40-year veteran of reservoir fishing, we usually each take several tackle bags and eight rigged rods apiece, sometimes more.
Harry’s 16-foot Sea Nymph, is a dink by standards of today’s reservoir rigs, and there’s barely enough room to change your mind let alone change the lure on one of your rods.
These rigs are heavy to launch and tow and can cost in the range of $20,000. This is a big investment for a rig that can only be used on three reservoirs, but these anglers are serious, make long runs and put in long hours on the reservoirs and catch some really big fish. Many are tournament fishermen, and some have an arrangement where one angler has a reservoir rig and the partner has a gas-powered bass boat for tournament fishing.
The kayak, canoe and small boat crowd have less of an investment. Few kayakers and canoers I know own just one, so dedicating one craft strictly for reservoir fishing is a comparatively minor limitation, and all three types of boats are widely available on used boat sites.
Compared to the big reservoir rigs, these craft have far less range and speed, can carry only one or two anglers and are severely restricted in the number of rods and amounts of tackle and electronics used.
A one-person, car-topped kayak may be the best choice for an angler with good paddling skills and stamina. Kayaks offer stealthy approaches for shallow water fishing and can be equipped with a single, small depth finder for working deeper waters. Kayakers must be conscious of weather conditions, especially wind speed and direction, and also must be wary of wakes some of the big rigs create. They can be equipped with electric motors, but most feel the weight, space, instability restrictions and registration requirements make this too much of a hassle.
Canoes in 14- to 16-foot length are another good choice. They can easily accommodate one or two anglers and can be efficiently powered with paddles, a single, 12-volt electric motor or a combination of these. They can carry far more weight than a kayak but are not as quiet and offer (in my opinion) less stability. The range, speed and space restrictions are about the same as for kayaks.
Small boats, 12 to 14 feet, are the choice for most beginners and, as many discover, can be the worst of both worlds. They can be more stable and capacious than canoes and kayaks, but the range and speed features are not necessarily better, since the battery weight and motor power ratios just aren’t that favorable.
Trying to get extra range, speed and time on the water requires multiple batteries and often multiple motors, which don’t have the thrust and efficiency to offset the added weight. Usually these rigs require trailering. Small boats can work, but it takes a lot of planning. Still a small boat could be the best choice for taking young kids on short outings if all safety and weight capacity mandates are observed.
On a somewhat disquieting note, it seems to me all the reservoirs are far more crowded this year. Perhaps this is due to the limited number of days with favorable weather leading to everyone hitting the water at once. But it does seem there have been an increasing number of boats and anglers on the reservoirs in recent years.
So let’s all be considerate.