Matt Gronaw shows that big bass and big smiles go hand-in-hand with this "plus sized" largemouth bass he caught recently at Deep Creek Lake.
Matt Gronaw shows that big bass and big smiles go hand-in-hand with this "plus sized" largemouth bass he caught recently at Deep Creek Lake. (Jim Gronaw photo)

For more than 40 years, friends and family members and I have been visiting Garrett County’s Deep Creek Lake in quest of both fun and fishing on a varied quest from this mountaintop playground. Yes, it can get crowded in the summer and boating traffic, rentals and food services can run high.

But compared to an oceanside gig, I’ll head toward the mountains anytime.


Our most recent visit to the big lake (3,900 acres) set my son Matt and I on an excellent cabin in the upper lake with plenty of “lakeside access,” a very loose term that often amounts to little, or no access throughout much of the rental realm at DCL. No issues where we were at, as several boat docks and shoreline areas gave us plenty of fishing opportunities.

We had fished here a year ago and smacked chain pickerel, northern pike and other species pretty hard and were anticipating much the same on this outing.

In those 40 years of vacation-like visits to this lake, I must admit that the lake has been good to me and my family in terms of angling success. Some of my best days have been on the ice, catching huge yellow perch in 20 feet of water or a trio of legal walleyes for the pan. Bluegills over 11 inches have come to hand and the ever present toothy critters (pike and pickerel) always seem to be around. In recent years, my son has scored well on smallmouths and rock bass with his daughters.

At this year’s late September gig, we focused on chucking big Mepps spinners and live minnows below bobbers to catch whatever might take them. Early morning and late evening time frames were prime, as were mid-day visits to the state park’s rocky shorelines.

In the past, we had also rocked ‘em with gaudy hair jigs fished slowly over visible weed tops.

Matt was first to score with a smallish chain pickerel on a big Mepps. It has always amazed me as to how aggressive smaller fish seem to be as they engulf lures literally half their size! On several occasions during the trip even modest sized Esox species inhaled the big hardware, coming dangerously close to severing our 15-pound mono leaders with those sharp canine teeth.

And then when a much bigger fish strikes, they seem to just barely get a hook in them. What’s up with that?

Anyway ... fishing wasn’t sensational, but it was consistent enough to make things interesting. Our most consistent action took place at the state park as we caught a slew of pint-sized smallmouths with the minnow/bobber rigs in crystal clear water. Most of these ran around 10 to 12 inches, some smaller.

But, every once in a while, you can catch a 14- or 15-incher and enjoy the ride on light tackle. Back in July, Matt and his daughter Elena teamed up with a superb 16.5 inch smallmouth bass that fought like a demon and made a pretty good memory for the two of them. It’s also a good spot for a citation-sized chain pickerel or even a nice largemouth bass from time to time.

Meanwhile, back at the cabin, Matt and I would recline after a long day of fishing, quaff a few Mello Yellos and plot strategy for the next day. At DCL, there’s always a chance for a big fish be it a pike, pickerel, bass or walleye. We were catching fish along our lakefront area, but nothing special, until Matt decided to toss a few minnows.

Then, it happened.

We were fishing between a series of floating docks and I just happened to glance up, and saw that he was fast to a good fish. Hitting the switch on my action cam, I hoofed it his way with the camera rolling. I could tell by the boils and swirls that he had latched onto something good, something you hope for when you visit DCL. Circling around and behind him, I realized that his fish was not a toothy critter at all, but rather, a fish of the bass persuasion, and a very large one at that.

My son often will display his best, most natural smile when he has the opportunity to hoist a big fish, which he was about to demonstrate. With steely calmness and co-ordination, he reached down and put the lower-jaw grip on a hulking, broad-shouldered largemouth bass that looked to be an easy five-pound specimen. That smile is a sight I have come to know and love over the years and even decades that we have enjoyed the outdoors together. Like the smell of bacon or the handshake from an old friend, it never grows old.

We worked quickly to get a few good photos of the fish and to unhook it for the release. Many anglers would have kept such a fish, either for a more than hearty meal or a lacquered and lifeless memory on the wall.


Matt choose neither, having landed bigger bass from trips long ago. And that’s not a brag, but rather a testament as to our respect and appreciation to one of God’s magnificent creatures. As we watched the fish swim away, we both knew it was indeed the fish of the trip, and it was. Deep Creek Lake had once again provided variety, and memories, for this father and son duo.