South Branch of the Patapsco River (Upper Section)
The South Branch offers numerous access points with plenty of parking. While the river is not classic “trout water”, there is enough structure distributed throughout its length to provide an interesting day of fishing. The bottom is mostly sand and mud with scattered rocks offering appealing targets for your lure. The deep holes occur wherever the river crashes into a bend with fallen trees creating additional compelling places that must be fished.
The McKeldin Area in the Patapsco Valley State Park provides the easternmost access point to the stocked section of the river. There are numerous trails that extend throughout the McKeldin Area that reach to the main stem of the Patapsco, not stocked, to the north as well as parallel the stocked section of the South Branch along its southern boundary. If you have your family with you, they can take advantage of the numerous activities offered by this Park. These include mountain bike trails, hiking trails and an 18 hole disc golf course. In addition, there are numerous large and small picnic areas scattered around the Park that may be reserved.
To reach the stocked section of the South Branch, follow the appropriately named Rapids trail that begins at the southern end of the Park. The 0.7 mile trail leads to the only dramatic vista on the South Branch – a cascading set of rapids that feed into a deep pool. Obviously, this is a very popular spot that attracts plenty of photographers, hikers and anglers.
If you do not want to pay the entry fee to the McKeldin Area Park, pull your vehicle into the broad parking area at the bridge crossing on Marriottsville Road. From here, pick up the trail on the north side of the bridge or just walk along the southern edge of the river and survey the scene. Most of the southern bank feels manicured. The scattered trees throw shade on thick grass without the challenge of the tangled, wader ripping thorn bushes endemic to the Patuxent. The best approach to fish this section is to walk as far downstream as you can tolerate, checking out the river as you go, and then fish upstream. Target the good spots noted on the walk downstream. Most of the pressure comes from the McKeldin Area on the northern bank. Fewer people attack the river from the south.
Just above the bridge crossing, there is a deep pool that sees plenty of attention immediately after stocking. In fact, the entire river upstream from the Marriottsville crossing to the railroad bridge is highly pressured, slow moving water running across the same sandy bottom with the deep water collecting at the bends. Each of these will be packed with other anglers during the stocking season. The good news is that there is an easy, beaten trail that moves away from the railroad tracks and parallels the river. Without any undergrowth to impede progress, you can move quickly upstream away from the pressure. The most scenic spot is directly downstream from the railroad bridge. At this point, there is a sharp bend in the river full of large boulders that underpin a small cliff where the river cuts right to begin its slow crawl back towards the parking lot. Upstream from this point is shallow and sandy.
Switching focus to the western end of the river, the river adopts a more “trouty” character. The section downstream from Sykesville road is full of rocks and other trout friendly structure. It is easy to wade at normal water levels – without the dramatically deep spots prevalent farther downstream. As you walk downstream from the last small, two vehicle informal parking area at the eastern end of River Road, the river quickly returns to sand and mud with random fallen logs. Since the road directly parallels the river and allows for easy access the angling pressure is more intense than at the other access points.
The best strategy for fishing the South Branch is to capitalize on the fact that the stocked trout will migrate downstream several days after being inserted into the river. Depending on how far you are willing to walk, you may want to take a short 500 foot hike in from the Buttercup Road sports complex to reach the river and then move upstream from there. Otherwise, the later in the season you visit, the farther east you should start with the McKeldin Area always being a good choice.
Primary access points are:
- McKeldin Recreation Area: 39.354852,-76.886693
- Marriottsville Road: 39.351798,-76.898038
- Henryton Road: 39.350963,-76.913742
- Buttercup Road: 39.363009,-76.951035
- River Road from 39.356754,-76.960047 to Sykesville Road 39.36208,-76.967086
- W. Friendship Road: 39.363788,-76.969124
Tell a friend about this article by clicking on this link
Easy walking on the south bank from Marriottsville
Looking upstream from the eastern edge of the stocked water
Under the Marriottsville Road crossing is nice.. but pressured
Easy trail along the river leading west from the bridge
The best rocky spot is at the train crossing
Steep banks, deep at the bends
At Sykesville, the road parallels the rocky stretch
Downstream, the river returns to mud and sand
Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore