Northern VA Trout Unlimited ran a “fish with a member” trip up to Owens in late December. I really wanted to go, just to see where I went so terribly wrong. Was I on the right creek? Was I on the right section? Was my “new fly guy” incompetence overriding the true productivity of Owens? I think the answer to those questions are yes, yes and most importantly yes. I did not know how to fish this last May… a month into my practical conversion to fly fishing.
So, what do the experts have to say? Gelso and Coburn, who I trust absolutely, state in Guide to Maryland Trout Fishing that Owens has a “good holdover rate and some natural reproduction of brown trout”. They go on to indicate that stocking occurs along the entire stretch and relate stories of numerous trout popping up all over the place; even in the dead heat of summer; their survival enhanced by the thick tree canopy shading the water. With that as background, I headed over to Owens on a bright May day. I’ll comment on the middle section of Owens in a later post and only focus on the lower section here.
I pulled into a large turnout at the western tip of the red line in the map and was immediately concerned. Any water with as well developed a parking area as this has to experience substantial pressure. But, nobody else was here on this Saturday, so maybe not. I walked over to the creek and was instantly unimpressed with the way it looked. The creek ran narrow and shallow with minimal flow. “Good”, I thought to myself. That might put others off who are not inclined to walk and get them to drive somplace else where nicer water is hugs the road. Looking both ways, I decided to head downstream and soon came upon a nice pool underneath a railroad trestle.
I worked the pool; floating my favorite hopper patterns with no luck and then switched to the Patuxent Special. This particular pool is pretty deep, it would hold fish if they were there. Still no luck, so I moved on downstream and discovered the same spot pictured in Gelso’s book. The authors stood in the middle of this spot and took a picture upstream and another down to post in the book. It’s a classic looking place where the water slams against a huge rock wall and cascades around a tight corner to spill into a large, deep pool.
Staring at such a perfect spot, I returned the hoppers and was rewarded with a huge strike at the transition point between the left hand turn and the feeding pool. The water literally exploded as something huge (or at least very active) shattered the top of the water to suck in the hopper! Of course, being a new fly guy, I immediately jerked the fly out of the fish’s mouth without having the patience or the training to allow the fish to finish its “take”. Geez. Lefty’s DVD points this out and tells us new guys that we need to say “God save the queen” before setting the hook to give the fish time to close its mouth.
Well, that was not to be for me. Beyond the deep hole, the stream takes a hard right as it scampers downstream under an umbrella of close trees into what looked to be a tight gradient without any larger plunge pools. Fishing there was going to be fishing individual rocks in fast water. Since it was late in the day, I decided to pass on that.
Bottom line: So, what’s not to like about Owens? Maybe I was not thorough enough in my evaluation of this section? I guess the issue I have is that this is a reverse delayed harvest section. Upon stocking, it’s a free for all with any type of lure, to include bait, permitted as it is a put and take section of water. Once June rolls around, it switches to catch and release.
So, in the back of my mind, I see folks harvesting everything in sight. Now, don’t get me wrong. If it’s legal, it’s fine – I do not believe in the hierarchy that places fly fishermen at the top of the sport’s pyramid and the bait guys at the bottom. As long as people are using what’s legal, when it is legal, where it is legal, they are within their rights and I do have any objections.
The issue here is, “will your trip to Owens be worth it at the end of the put and take season”? Will there be enough left to justify the trip when you could go someplace else? One response is that you should go in the height of the stocking season when the fish are guaranteed to be present. I was here in mid-May, so that should have been pretty good.
My conclusion is twofold:
(1) New fly guy marginal skills limited my ability to work the creek;
(2) Get here closer to the actual stocking before the fish are “putted and taken”.
As I write this post, I am beginning to realize that I need to expand my stream-side awareness that has been colored by 48 years of spin fishing. A spin guy will look for longer stretches of water to allow the spinner or rapalla time to sink and start spinning. However, on a small stream like the Owens, it’s set up to give the fly and bait guys the advantage since there were no long runs in this short section.
With either fly or bait, you can drift your lure into some pretty tight places and rely on the bobber/indicator to clue you to the strike. If you look at the bottom picture on the left, you can see what I mean. Trout could hold in front or behind many of these rocks (assuming the water is deep enough), but you will not be able to effectively use a spinner here. This is dry fly / nymph or bait country.
On my next trip up to Owens – or any other tight water like this – I need to recognize the opportunity this water presents. It filters out the spin guys and if bait is illegal, this becomes “fly fishing only” water! Good deal!
Getting There: Mapquest yourself to Thurmont, MD. Take the exit off Route 15 to 550 and head west.
Stretch next to the parking lot.
The railroad pool
Rock fishing – a new opportunity.
Here’s the Amazon link to Lefty’s DVD
Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore