In my last column, we focused on the overview of the put-and-take trout stocking gig that dominates much of the Mid Atlantic streams and lakes.
To be clear, the stocking of rainbow, brown, golden and sometimes brook trout remains one of the forces and fishery management tools for ensuring regional anglers some semblance of trout fishing and assures many early-season anglers the opportunity to experience trout fishing from both moving and stillwater environments. Although some opportunities for native brook trout and larger, naturalized populations of the other trout species does exist in pockets of western and northern reaches of the state, the Maryland DNR has long been the driving force for most of the trout fishing in our state.
Although many anglers anxiously anticipate the opening day experience, many others also look forward to the "in-season" stocking efforts that often result in less crowded conditions with warmer temperatures and willing trout. Many streams contain "holdover" populations of fish that escape the anglers' hooks and remain in the waters beyond spring and may contribute to a naturalized population.
One of my favorite areas to enjoy the spring tradition of trout fishing is the Catoctin Mountain Watershed area north of the city of Frederick just west of Route 15. Small towns like Thurmont, Emmitsburg, and Sabillasville are jump-off points for the many streams and small ponds and lakes that get more than a healthy dose of trout from the hatchery trucks.
Even with announced stockings on the DNR website, most waters are far less populated with anglers.
My most recent Catoctin trout outing was with local angler Alvie Sickle of Taneytown, who has been fishing the watershed area for several decades and knows almost every hole on every Catoctin stream. We fished the very popular Frank Bentz Pond at Thurmont and enjoyed a face-paced morning of standard-issue 10- to 12-inch "stocker" rainbows, catching a limit apiece. Along the way was a spunky brown trout that looked to be very much a native or a naturalized fish that struck my Rooster Tail spinner.
Frank Bentz Pond receives not only periodic stockings but also likely gets a few "spill over" trout from Big Hunting Creek … a fly-fishing only gem that parallels Route 77 and starts at the tailwaters of Cunningham Falls Lake. Scenic drop pools, pocket water and riffles dominate Big Hunting Creek and can offer challenging fishing for those preferring the long pole.
In other streams in the Catoctin Range there are opportunities for delayed harvest, catch and return and artificial lure only waters. Friends, Fishing, Owens, and Middle Creek are other popular streams that meander off of the eastern slope and can each have their day. As the weather continues to warm, insect hatches dominate, and savvy anglers find that even stocked trout develop a discriminating taste for a specific insect and color pattern.
I have literally zero experience in attempting to match any kind of hatch, so I focus on tossing small spinners and spoons or drifting tiny hair jigs or Gulp! Minnows to catch hatchery trout, where permitted.
There are numerous small lakes and ponds within easy driving distance of the Catoctin streams. One of my favorites is the pond at Woodsboro Regional Park. Not only does this 2-acre lake receive ample trout stockings, but it has a good population of sizable bluegills that most people totally ignore.
Emmitsburg Reservoir, also known as Rainbow Lake, receives trout stockings and also has a population of bass and sunfish. Additionally, there are some massive carp in this 8-acre lake that could prove quite a challenge for any European-style angler seeking the giant goldfish.
As Rainbow Lake is the water supply for the town of Emmitsburg, a permit is required to fish it and is available for free at the town office.
Cunningham Falls Lake is another trout fishing option, especially for kayakers or stillwater enthusiasts. At 43 acres it offers seasonal trout action along with a good population of bass, bluegills and some crappies. It is part of Cunningham Falls State Park where camping, swimming, and boating are popular during the summer months.
The day that Alvie and I visited Frank Bentz Pond we decided to go with live mealworms and the Berkley Gulp! Minnows. We suspended them on small hooks and jigs below lightweight bobbers and the stocker trout were more than able to submerse them. Using ultralight spinning gear made it a blast to catch those high-spirited, hard-fighting fish. Sometimes the DNR will release a few larger, trophy-class trout in specific waters.
A number of years ago, Alvie caught a 29-inch 10-pound rainbow trout from the Woodsboro pond — a fish of a lifetime for most of us!
Be sure to refer to the 2018 Maryland Fishing and Crabbing Guide for specific regulations on Catoctin waters pertaining to trout regulations.
Is it Montana, Wyoming, or Great Lakes trout fishing? Nope, and it never will be.
But the scenery is awesome and the fish are co-operative and I personally like the taste of trout fillets. Throw in numerous local restaurants and eateries along the Route 15 corridor and, well, you just can't go wrong!