That was my reaction to "The State of the Gunpowder River" presentation Jan. 20 by Mark Staley, Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Inland Fisheries Central Region Fisheries Manager. The Maryland Chapter of Trout Unlimited requested Staley's Gunpowder review, since many view the Gunpowder as central Maryland's premier trout stream.
Staley focused on the 7.2-mile section of the Gunpowder from the base of Prettyboy Reservoir Dam to Blue Mount Road. This is the catch-and-release section with only fly and artificial lure fishing allowed. His report was couched in terms of fisheries biology language and was largely based on results of electroshocking surveys in the areas of Falls Road, Masemore Road and Blue Mount Road.
In brief, the surveys revealed the Gunpowder trout population is 97-99 percent brown trout; the remainders are rainbow trout plus a few brook trout entering from tributaries. The population of adult trout, 9 to 12 inches, declined last year, but there was very good reproduction, and these fish should be adult sized within two years. Large trout, over 12 inches, constitute only 1-5 percent of the population.
Lack of an abundant forage base continues to limit on Gunpowder trout populations and size. Insects are the predominant food in this section, and populations appear to be diminished. Minnow populations are nearly non-existent at the dam but increase further downstream.
The rainbow trout stocked in this section in recent years are fingerlings, but survival is minimal. The are most likely devoured by larger brown trout (as will happen with a portion of those young-of-year brown trout). Great Blue Herons prey on the trout as do eagles, osprey and otters.
I guess I was disappointed with the report, because I did well on 6- to 10-inch browns on my last trip and heard similar reports from two friends.
Then I started thinking, "Let's look at the bright side."
First of all, some long time local trout experts propose that the Gunpowder trout fishery goes through periodic up and down cycles. Things could improve. Second, there are other nearby options — for anglers willing to fish for stocked trout.
While some anglers refer to stocked trout as "SNITs," standard 9-inch trout, many are larger, fitting and exceeding the adult trout category of the Gunpowder.
The Gunpowder is one of many Maryland streams receiving annual stockings by DNR — 6,000 trout in the section between Upper Glencoe and Phoenix roads and 5,800 trout at Harford and Belair roads in the spring of 2015.
Smaller stocking occurred in the fall. Some trout may be kept in these sections, and bait fishing is allowed.
And, though the Gunpowder has the reputation, it is not the only or closest option. Carroll County's Morgan Run offers catch-and-return, fly and lure fishing in a 3- to 4-mile section between Md. 97 and London Bridge Road. Last spring 2,500 trout, a mix of rainbow and brown trout, were stocked, and there were also a fall stocking.
Access and parking are found at Jim Bowers, Klees Mill and London Bridge roads. This is a beautiful and natural setting, but is gets pressured, especially in the Klees Mill area, where there are rudimentary trails upstream and down. Places like Jim Bowers are real briar patches, but you can fight your way to some good holes. This could be a good flipping or Tenkara stream.
I've had some good fishing here when I could beat the crowds, including a 20-plus-inch rainbow on a floating soft hackle right after a spin fisherman vacated a favorite hole. The area above Klees Mill is classic pocket water, lending itself to flipping, high stick nymphing and probably Tenkara techniques.
Soft hackles, dry fly and dropper, and red San Juan worms have been productive for me. I have not done well with spinning tackle.
The Patapsco River provides stocked rainbows and browns at two major areas. At the Daniels Dam area 5,600 trout were stocked in the spring of 2015; the Avalon area received 5,500. Both got fall stocking as well. This is put-and-take fishing with flies, lures and bait allowed. Both areas can be frenzied in the spring as "the PowerBait crowd" frantically attempt to get their limits, two trout at Daniels, five at Avalon. Though DNR spreads out the stockings over three or four sessions, fish are quickly depleted (or terrorized) a few days after the stockings.
Nevertheless, a patient fisherman with walking and wading skills can have some good fishing. While most of the trout are "SNITS" sometimes a big one shows up. A rainbow of almost 10 pounds was taken at Avalon a few years ago.
I've had success with the same flies as above, especially the San Juan worm, plus a Crystal Bugger streamer in white. A size #1 silver Mepps spinner is the ticket with spinning tackle, and PowerBait paste is definitely the bait of choice.
Finally, for those willing to travel, my favorite trout stream in Maryland is the Casselman River near Grantsville in Garrett County. I have taken a half-dozen trout of 20 inches or more here. The Casselman is a delayed harvest stream with spring and fall stockings providing catch-and-release fishing with lures and flies only from Oct. 1 through June 15 of the following year. From June 16 through Sept. 30 bait is also allowed and two fish per day may be kept.