Stolen Hours

Baltimore County’s Big Gunpowder Falls

I stole a couple of hours from Old Man Winter yesterday. After days of cold and wet, stormy skies the sun brightened the mountainsides, and I headed out for the Beaverkill.

I have always been a winter fly fisher, unable to stay away from rivers for any length of time. I began this habit on the Gunpowder, the stream I have always called my first love. Much younger then, I was able to climb along the steep, slippery footpaths along the upper river all winter long and fish that lovely little tailwater for wild browns and rainbows.

I was fortunate to discover the Gunpowder at the perfect time, after the right kind of politics and a lot of hard work had developed a fine wild brown trout population. The rainbows were a surprise. I believe that some of the rainbows stocked miles downstream in the put and take reach of the stream followed their spawning urge upstream, reproduced, and that they and their offspring found the Wild Trout Management Area to their liking.

Many of those bows gathered in pods to feed on the midges and microcaddis during the autumn and winter in the couple of miles of river directly below the dam, the reach I affectionally dubbed “The Canyon”. Those pod feeders were 14″ to 17″ long and very tough to catch. My new fly tying skills were tested imitating the tiny bugs, and my presentation was upgraded by necessity.

The rainbow fishery was somewhat short lived. One day after their decline I encountered a couple of the Maryland DNR biologists in the “canyon” trying to figure out what had happened. I never learned if they solved the puzzle to their satisfaction. It was fun while it lasted, and I feel privileged to have enjoyed the best of it. The little river still maintains a healthy brown trout fishery.

I have yet to discover any winter midge activity on the Catskill rivers I now call my home waters. Water temperatures on the days I have fished have ranged from 36 to 38 degrees during the daytime. Nightime flows are another matter.

During those halcyon days on the Gunpowder I fished rising brown trout in 36 degree water during a particularly rough winter in the early nineties. That occurred within the first half mile below the Prettyboy dam where the trout tended to acclimate to the cold water discharge. The bottom release water gushed forth at a relatively steady 42 degrees regardless of season. Those experiences led me to first expect, and still hope for similar activity in our Catskill tailwaters.

It appears the colder climate here will not grant the blessing of a rising trout in winter. Still the milder days find me walking the river banks with a rod in hand. As I said, I simply cannot stay away from rivers for any length of time. I still need the energy infused as the currents wash over my legs, just as I need the freshness of the mountain air.

I carry soft hackle wets and small streamers, each tied to entice with subtle movement, the spark of life: cast, mend and swing. Still, somewhere deep in my bag or my vest there is something, a pill bottle or a little box which holds a few midges, tiny blue winged olives and an early stonefly or two. There is always hope in the soul of a confirmed dry fly man.

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