As water rises, heat-induced blues flee


The car's air conditioner was on the fritz, and the drive west from the city was stifling. Even while moving with interstate traffic, the air through the windows was hot and humid, and an evening wading the Potomac River held the promise of a reprieve from the heat wave and the prospect of smallmouth bass.

Coming down into Brunswick, a railroad town on Route 17 southwest of Frederick, a thick, humid haze had collected in the valley that girds some of the best wading waters in the state.

In early evening, workers from Washington were disembarking from commuter trains and heading for cars that had baked all day.

Across the tracks, beneath the Route 17 bridge, the parking lot was empty in the last couple of hours before dusk, and a slight breeze lifted from the river.

A grim-faced angler toting a bait bucket waded across the back channel off the main river and, asked how the fishing had been, only shrugged and walked on.

Hard to read, that fellow.

But by all reports, the Potomac has recovered from the ravages of the 1996 floods, and a good hatch of smallmouths on this stretch of river a few years ago should by now have grown to 10 inches or more.

River guide and author Ken Penrod of Life Outdoors Unlimited reported last week that the fishing from Brunswick downriver to Seneca Breaks has been excellent, with "the only negatives occurring on the first clear, blue day following a low-pressure system."

The walk from the parking lot, across the back channel and over a small island to the main river was short and easily made.

Over the hump in the island, the view of the Potomac spread across hundreds of acres of varied habitat. Bridge abutments, submerged grass beds cut with deeper channels, rock ledges and isolated boulders -- any of them can hold smallmouth or panfish ready for bait, lure or fly.

The arsenal for the evening was an 8-weight fly rod (admittedly a size or two too heavy) and a fly box of assorted popper, muddler, nymph and crayfish patterns.

The wading outfit was an old T-shirt, ratty shorts, abused sneakers and a gas-inflatable personal flotation device.

And the evening was delightful, although for the first 45 minutes I never got past tying on a simple white pencil popper, which enticed smallmouths as large as 13 inches and feisty sunfish.

A weighted black sculpin pattern fished well near the bottom, working from the upstream end down the deeper channels alongside the bridge abutments, although it attracted a smaller size of smallmouth, which invariably swam across current and made the fights interesting.

As darkness closed and I waded and fished back toward the Maryland shore, a white muddler minnow attracted several strikes, but resulted in only one hookup, probably the best bass of the day, perhaps a two-pounder that tail-walked briefly before breaking off.

From the small island beneath the bridge, while looking back across the river, I could see rising fish dimpling the waterscape, feeding freely -- and the temptation was to wade back in.

But there will be other evenings when a trip into the darkness will produce even better fishing -- especially once the storied white miller hatch is thick from early July through the middle of August.

Late evening and nighttime wading is best done in groups for safety. Even in the Brunswick area at low summer flows, there are deep holes in the river that can be encountered unexpectedly, slick rock ledges and soft gravel edges that can provide unsafe footing.

In places, especially where the river flow is concentrated by bridge abutments or narrow natural channels, the current can be fast enough to carry a wader who is slow to recover from a slip into peril.

Wade wet, wade safe and enjoy some of the best smallmouth fishing in the state.

Pub Date: 6/28/98

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