Way out west in, Maryland's Garrett County, lies 3,900-acre Deep Creek Lake, a perennial warm weather tourist trap for decades with unlimited horsepower boating and recreational pursuits.
But after Labor Day, and literally right until ice-up, this one-time madhouse of recreational mayhem calms down and offers local and visiting anglers a variety of species and options for a fall "getaway" adventure. My son Matt and I recently sampled some of what the lake has to offer during a three-day trip to this, the largest lake in the state, and the surrounding area.
For some advanced prep, I contacted Alan Klotz, Western Regional Fisheries Biologist, for some of his inside scoop on DCL. To my great surprise, he told me that his favorite fall month on the lake was actually November, when almost everyone is hunting. Still, he assured me that October could be excellent with a variety of fish becoming active and shoreline oriented.
Although we would have preferred to catch the lakes bountiful supply of porker-sized yellow perch or monster bluegills, we instead settled for a little of bass and predominantly chain pickerel during our stay. Deep Creek Lake has long been famous for it's walleye population and the chance for trophy northern pike as well. Throw in abundant smallmouths, largemouths and a little-known, world-class carp fishery and it's hard to "not" satisfy most anglers who hit the lake. The current state records for bluegill (3 pounds, 7 ounces) and northern pike (24 pounds, 12 ounces) were DCL residents. Walleyes in the 10-pound class are taken annually and fish of 18-22 inches make up the bulk of the catch.
We hit on a pattern of throwing in-line spinners in expansive shallow coves where weed growth was itermitten yet still green. The lake had been drawn down a few feet and some of the many floating docks had been removed. Long casts parallel to weed edges also produced action from pickerel and the occasional yellow perch. Ideal outfits were light 15-pound braid with a 12-pound fluorocarbon leader for the spinners. Pickerel have teeth, but the 12-pound floro warded off and prevented any bite-offs that could have happened with lighter line. Our best producing spinners were Mepps #3 Silver Aglias and #5 Mepps Black Furys ... a bit of "old school."
Most strikes came at the apex of the cast, almost as soon as the blades of the spinner started turning. Sometimes the fish would follow right to the boat in the clear waters. Fun fishing!
Most DCL pickerel run 16-20 inches. On one of Matt's tosses tight to a submerged log, a larger fish struck as soon as it hit the water. Playing the fish carefully, he eased it up to the boat and we netted a fine 23-incher that just missed the citation mark by one inch. Larger chain pickerel actually are good table fare and can be filleted into 5 "strips" for quality baking or frying methods. The process takes some practice, but you can fillet pike and pickerel to exclude those pesky "Y" bones along the flanks.
Often cursed by the local bass fishing throngs, DCL pickerel could certainly stand some 'thinning' and we kept several of the larger ones to supplement an upcoming fish fry.
Matt and I fish two days and one morning at DCL and Broadford Lake landing a total of 34 fish for our efforts. Species included yellow perch, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, chain pickerel, bluegills and rock bass. Our largest perch was a robust, citation-sized 14½-incher that clubbed a #3 Mepps right at the boat. It would have been nice to stay longer, but other responsibilities would not permit.
There are more fall options in Western Maryland besides Deep Creek Lake. We traveled to Broadford Lake Park, just east of the town of Oakland, for another day of variety. We caught bluegills, largemouths and pickerel here as well and the shallow, upper end of the lake is very fishy-looking with lily pads and stumps. It is a fine springtime crappie fishery and sports swimming, boat rentals and many other concessions within the park ... a great place for a day trip.
Additionally, many of the mountain creeks and streams in Garrett County support native brook trout populations ... fish that are currently in a spawning phase and are exhibiting spectacular, brilliant coloration during the fall spawn. Feeders to the Savage River, Youghiogheny, and North Branch of the Potomac can offer challenging options for the hiker/fisherman who don't mind working and walking to find these beautiful, native trout in their natural setting. Consult the Maryland DNR website in regards to special regulations for these and other trout streams in Garrett and other western Maryland counties.
For additional information about Deep Creek Lake and other Garrett County fishing, camping or hunting opportunities contact: Maryland Parks Service 1-800-830-3974; Deep Creek Lake State Park at 301-387-5563; or visit www.dnr.maryland.gov and explore the site for other accommodations at any one of several state parks in the region that can offer reasonable cabins and camping for your visit and budget.