The Savage River in Maryland is one of the rivers I like to escape to when I want to catch trout in the heat of summer. The four-mile section of the river below Savage River Reservoir is managed as a wild trophy trout fishery and releases from the dam provide ideal habitat for trout throughout the year.
Trout stocking in this section ceased in 1991 after reproducing trout where found in the river and now there are an estimated 1,000 adult trout per mile in this stream. It contains brown and brook trout with a two fish daily creel limit. However, the brown trout must be 18 inches to keep and the brookies 12. The tail water is divided into two sections, a fly fishing only section that extends from the dam for 1.25 miles then an artificial lures and flies only section that extends downstream to the confluence with the North Branch Potomac River near Bloomington, Md. This is a beautiful little stream cloaked in rhododendron and hemlock while the resident trout sip tiny bugs from the surface. It was just the thing I needed, so last weekend I took off for the Savage to cast dry flies to big rising trout on this little river.
I arrived in the early afternoon and with a bright sun started looking for fish rising in the shadows under overhanging branches in a long pool where I have seen some nice fish in the past. I was not disappointed. There in the shadows I could see some large brown trout leisurely taking something from the surface. I examined the water and did not see any sign of mayflies hatching, but there were a few caddis flies buzzing around under the branches. The rise forms looked more like the fish were feeding on ants, beetles or something small that I could not see on the surface. I tied on a No. 22 ant pattern, a tiny fly but these fish are very wary and heavily pressured and seem to like the tiny stuff when no major hatch is occurring. I carefully waded into position to try for the largest fish I could find nearby. He was tucked into a current seam next to the bank under some rhododendron. He was big and beautiful. I could see the bright red spots on his flanks as he rose through the water column and cautiously sipped the small insects from the surface. It was a tough spot and casting would be difficult with several current seams to cross, plus there was only about 4 feet between the water and the overhanging branches.
After several casts, I finally hit the right spot and got the drift I wanted under the branches right into his feeding lane. I could barely make out my tiny fly in the shadows, but the big brown was coming up to feed on something and I knew my ant was in the vicinity. When I saw his snout poke through the surface I set the hook catching a piece of skin, but there was no solid hookup and he was gone just like that. In my anticipation, I forgot the cardinal rule of waiting for a fish to turn back down after a take when fishing tiny hook sizes. I continued looking for rising fish and found a few. All the larger ones were in almost impossible lies. I hooked a few and landed some smaller fish until I had enough and decided to come back the following morning.
I awoke to a light rain and eagerly gathered my gear anticipating a hatch of blue wing olive mayflies. For some reason these small mayflies like to hatch on rainy overcast days, especially on tail water streams. My hunch was correct. When I arrived I found a light hatch of No. 18 blue wings, not a heavy hatch but enough to get the trout's attention and more importantly, feeding on these little bugs. I started fishing some pocket water casting to the fish I saw taking the small mayflies in the gentle glides around the boulders. I hooked and landed a few. Then lost a few more, but that is to be expected with tiny hooks and light line.
I came upon a nice pool with some good fish rising; I spotted a very large brown trout on the far bank rising to take the small mayflies off the surface before they flew off. This fish was easily 20 inches and feeding heavily on the tiny insects. I tried the parachute blue wing pattern that had been successful to this point, but the big brown just ignored it on numerous drifts over his head. I changed to a small emerger pattern that would provide a more realistic silhouette and float lower in the surface film. After I got the drift right on about the 10th cast, he took it and the fun began. It was probably the largest trout I had hooked this year and he was full of fight in the cool water. As I played him, he made several jumps. I could see the brilliant red spots and white tipped fins as I tried to keep him out of the trees at the head of the pool. He made several strong runs and there was not much I could do on the 7x tippet (2-pound test) I was using. I tried to steer him away from danger when I thought he was worn down enough. Unfortunately, he had a little left in the engine and made a final surge that broke my light line and he was gone.
I hated to lose that fish. He was my second fish of the trip over 20 inches that I did not land, but at least I got a chance to play this one which is what it's all about. I love this type of fishing. It is very challenging. You need pinpoint accuracy with your casting, and precise presentations. The payoff can be great if you enjoy fishing for wild trout with tiny flies and light line in beautiful surroundings. This is a great place to visit. You may not catch many trout, but wild trout are amazing in their coloration and there is always a chance that a big brook or brown trout may end up on the end of your line. I just hope you have better luck at landing them than I do.