The Maryland DNR website confirms that the Patapsco River has plenty of smallmouth bass. While, sometimes, you can take what is on that website with a grain of salt, the fact that a friend of mine also encouraged me to visit the section of the river upstream from Ellicott City got me excited about the prospects of having a great day. So, I dropped the Basswife off at her twin sister's and headed north.
Your first challenge when you roll into Ellicott city is to figure out where to park. As I came across the bridge from the south, I noted a public parking area to the right on north side of the bridge. I pulled in and began to get ready to hit the river when I noticed that there was no clear path to get down to the water. The parking lot is surrounded by a high metal fence which, if you value your manhood, would be sporty to climb over. I looked around and noticed that there was another parking area on the other side of the river so I moved my truck to there. This area is much larger and it looks like it is specifically intended for the high volume of tourists who regard Ellicott City has a quaint destination.
Ignoring the odd looks from the tourists, I pulled on my gear and wandered down to the river where I encountered a father and three sons fishing directly upstream of the bridge. They had been here before, and gave this section a thumbs-up. More positive encouragement! With that, I headed upstream to put some distance between myself and the tourist action. My basic theory with smallies runs counter to that of stocked trout. While I have learned that if you fish a river that is only filled with stockers, you have to go to where the stock truck can gain access to the water and not rely much on migration. But with smallmouth water, this does not apply since smallies are not stocked and can range the entire length of the river independent of whether a road runs close to the water. I walked about 200 yards upstream before looking for a place to start fishing.
I decided to start at a big hole right next to an apartment building and immediately picked up some large bluegills and a couple small smallies. Even though I was using my fly rod, I had tied on some small plastic grubs with at 1/32 ounce sliding weight to take it down. The fish seem to be reacting to that presentation very well. Encouraged by the action there, I continued to fish my way upstream.
The river in this section appears to be classic smallmouth water. There plenty of rocks both above and below the surface which makes wading a little bit challenging in places. While there are some sandy stretches, it seems like rocks are the predominant geological terrain feature here. On the downside, there did not appear to be much water in the river - which was surprising given all the rain we had had in the weeks before my visit.
I had to look hard for the deeper sections and was rewarded since they consistently held a small number of fish. But deep is a relative term or at least it was on this particular day. Beyond the apartment hole, I did not encounter any water that was deeper than 2 to 3 feet. Most of the river splayed out in a very shallow presentation across a broad front as I slogged upstream. In fact, I ended up doing more walking than fishing. While there was not much in terms of volume of water, there was certainly plenty of velocity as the gradient here was definitely uphill all the way.
Frustrated by the shallow water, I decided to leave the river and move to the train tracks that followed the river. They would give me a high-speed avenue of approach that I could follow while looking into the river to see if it improved. As you can see from the map above, I walked 2 1/2 miles upstream and never found that perfect spot. After dodging three trains, I decided to head back and spend the afternoon checking out what the Patapsco had to offer downstream of Ellicott City since I was in the area anyway. But that's the subject of another post.
Remember to refer to my rating explanations - these are based on what I look for - so RED for Physical Fitness translates to easy physically - you do not need to be in shape to fish this section. I prefer terrain that is tough to get into and out of.
Bottom line: This definitely rates a red overall assessment in my book. Unless someone has a compelling argument for me to return here, I'm going to write this stretch off my list of places to fish. Granted, I know you can get a skewed version of any water when you only visit once. All water takes multiple visits to really understand where the fish will be. And, this was a very scenic and secluded river. Once I left the city, I was the only fisherman for miles. I did see one or two other hikers on the train tracks but that was about it.
I threw a lot of variety at the few interesting spots I found. In addition to my small plastic grubs, I used terrestrial patterns drifted under the overhanging trees as well as traditional streamers like the Patuxent Special. Nada.
Getting There: From I95, take exit 43B onto MD 100. Take Exit 1A onto the Long Gate Parkway. Turn left onto Montgomery Road and then right onto Old Columbia Pike. Follow this into Ellicott City and turn right on Main Street. Follow it across the bridge over the Patapsco river and turn left into the parking area immediately after the bridge.
Google Local Coordinates: 39.268264, -76.793638
Secrets Revealed? No. This is a public location that is documented on the
Maryland DNR website