Winter Solitude: My favorite time to fish
When I first moved to the Baltimore area about 10 years ago, I was excited to be just a few minutes from one of my favorite trout streams, the Gunpowder River. The Gunpowder is a medium sized tailwater stream flowing cold and clear from a remote, picturesque lake near the Pennsylvania border. The Gunpowder runs though Gunpowder State park, but being so close to Baltimore and DC means that this gentle trout stream is heavily pressured. If you can pull yourself away from chasing the spring hatches during the warmer months and can pull yourself away from the warm comforts of home during the colder months, you can find all the solitude you need.
Solitude, one of the main reasons I go fishing – to escape society’s stress, responsibilities, expectations, and people, to loose myself in nature and to become part of the aquatic ecosystem as I observe and imitate the river’s insects, hoping to connect with the jewels that swim and feed below the surface. Fishing in solitude may be the only activity that allows me to completely lose myself. Time slows down but somehow goes by quickly. If I don’t make an effort to remind myself, I’ll go all day without eating or drinking water. It’s an amazing, spiritual experience that doesn’t happen if I also need to focus on socializing with buddies, or guiding a client. And, it definitely doesn’t happen if I need to dodge hoards of tubers splashing down the river. I need solitude to truly enjoy a day of fishing, and the best way to experience this serenity and solitude is to venture to the stream in the midst of winter.
Like most catch & release tailwater fisheries, the Gunpowder sees its share of crowds. Most of these anglers, however, only fish the stream in the spring, especially during the sulphur hatch.
There are other hatches, and you can probably find someone on the river most days of the year, but none of the hatches draws the attention and the crowds like the sulphur hatch. Many anglers stick around during the summer months after the sulphurs die down to take advantage of the terrestrial and trico action, as well as the cold water that flows all year long. But, summer time also brings the hoards of tubers and kayakers. The fish don’t seem to care about the chaos floating by; I’ve even caught trout while rowdy tubers are floating right over the fish. But, the tubers are definitely annoying to the angler, so a good number of fisherman concede to the summer crowds and avoid the stream during the “tube” hatch.
Once fall comes around, the tubers and paddlers have left, but not many anglers frequent the stream. Why? I wonder. Are people so fixated on hatches that they think the only time worth fishing is during a big mayfly hatch? Newsflash: A trout trying to survive on tiny insects in cold current must eat frequently throughout the year! However, I’ve talked to more than one Gunpowder angler who feel that the fishing season ends in late October.
To one of these so called “dedicated” anglers, I asked, “Oh, are you opposed to fishing when the trout are spawning?”
He gave me an awkward, puzzled look and replied, “No, not really, I guess. But, the hatches are gone, and there are too many fallen leaves in the stream to fish it.”
I wanted to reply with, “The big hatches might be gone but so are all the fair weather fishermen such as yourself!” Instead I just put it to rest by agreeing, “Yeah, the fishing can be pretty tough.” But, the truth is that fishing can always be tough, even under the best conditions. And, I’ve had some of my best days on the river in late November over the Thanksgiving holiday. The insect activity often is limited, but the fish are hungry and aggressive, and big bright flies like the green Kebari pictured here can draw strikes from trout throughout the year. The picture was taken in late November, and you can see that the stream is free from fallen leaves. My only company that day was the family of busy beavers that came out right before dusk to prepare for winter. In fact, one of my favorite things about fishing in late November is witnessing all the beaver activity as they get ready for the freeze.
As the temperatures continue to drop and the days become frustratingly short. Winter takes hold of the landscape and provides the most beautiful, serene fishing experience you can find. I realize that the cold weather deters anglers from wetting a line, but if you make the necessary preparations you can stay warm and comfortable as you enjoy the winter wonderland. See my article in last year’s winter issue of Tenkara Angler for an in depth look at gearing up for winter. Here in Baltimore, the winter of 2016-2017 failed to lay that beautiful blanket of snow on the landscape. What a disappointment! I love walking along the stream through the skeleton trees with only the sound of virgin snow crunching under my feet. And, I especially love how the snow sends the fair-weather fishermen back to the comforts of their homes. True, the fish have slowed down and aren’t eating as much, and the insect activity is at an absolute minimum, but on warm afternoons you might be lucky enough find little swarms of midges dancing over the water or winter stoneflies skittering on the surface, which can be imitated with a traditional black Sakasa Kebari. On cloudy days, look for a hatch of baetis flies, often when there’s some light snow or rain. Nice trout like the rainbow pictured still eat in the winter and can’t resist a properly presented midge patern.
By late February, the weather can be downright erratic here in Maryland. It’s still winter, and the fair-weather fishermen are still inside, but there are many days when Spring sneaks out of its slumber to give us some warm afternoons and some heavy hatches of winter stoneflies. And this time of year can also bring that nasty cold rain and sleet, which keeps even more anglers at home and which seems to trigger heavy hatches of blue wing olives. This is a great time of year to catch fish that are waking up from winter and looking for bugs to eat, and it’s a great time to get a jump on all the anglers sitting at home tying flies and waiting for Spring. The picture on the right was taken the first weekend in March. I was expecting to encounter at least a few other fishermen on such a nice late winter / early spring day, but it was just me and my serenity!