With the switch to daylight savings time, it’s again possible to go fishing after work. My first trip this year was to head up to the catch and release area of the Patuxent River. Earlier, I had fished from Howard Chapel Road upstream but had read that the best section starts upstream from route 97. I was stunned to see the size of the parking lot as I pulled off the main highway. I assume that no one builds a parking lot this size if they only expect a few people to use this access point on a given weekend day. Granted, I’m sure people hike here in addition to fish, but it made me nervous nevertheless.
At the western end of the parking lot, there’s a nice piece of property with a private home and a sign indicating the need to find a different way to get to the river. This is not a problem for fishermen as we were going to hop in the river anyway. I began wading upstream around the property and was favorably impressed with what lay before me. On this late March day, the river was running at a decent volume and was typically a foot or two deep in the flat areas. The bends sheltered the deeper holes as you would expect. The bottom offers a smooth surface of scattered, small rocks that makes wading a snap. I did not run into any muck or mud either. The banks were very steep and you had to be careful with your entry and exit. In many sections, it’s tough to get in and out as the banks can be over 5 feet high. In addition to dealing with their height, you also have to negotiate the equivalent of a barbed wire fence with the dense sticker bushes that protect the river.
Once you are beyond the private property, a path opens up on the left bank but eventually moves uphill and away from the River. On the right bank, once you move about 50 feet away from the River, you find a small game trail that provides rapid up and downstream access. In either case, you have to deal with an overwhelmingly high density of thick stickers and thorn bushes. I kept my garden shears in my hand as I walked to be able to clear a path and not destroy another set of waders like I did the last time I was in the catch and release area. Although the parking lot speaks volumes of pressure, I did not see evidence beyond a single illegal bait container in the mile I walked up the river.
I hoped that the fish would be cooperative as the entire catch and release stretch from route 97 upstream to route 27 received a stocking in February as part of Maryland’s preseason program. Since I did not see any evidence of insects even though it was late afternoon and sunny, I tied on a brown woolly bugger and began to work the deeper holes. I was grateful for the smooth bottom since it allowed me to bounce the bugger into the deep spots where the trout would hold on this chilly day. I have no idea what the temperature of the water was because my thermometer broke last year — I’ve got to get a new one before I get much farther into this season.
On other small rivers in Maryland, you end up walking quite a bit to find the places to fish. Pools or runs that are large enough to hold fish seem to be widely separated by shallow riffled areas. That’s not the case here as the river was uniformly deep. If it were not for the fact that there was no protective structure in many of 1 to 2 feet deep areas, I bet that you would find trout throughout the entire river. However, the exposure they experience to predators if they hang out where the bottom is bare with no protective cover overhead drives them to the fallen trees and the deeper bends.
I spent a good two hours fishing the mile without any positive results. Being the optimist, I’ll write this off to good practice and a warm-up to what I hope will be an aggressive and productive 2009 fishing season.
Bottom line: You never really know what to think about the density of fish in catch and release areas. Theoretically, Maryland will stock the entire Patuxent catch and release section with almost 4000 fish. I have no idea how many they inserted during the preseason, but I certainly did not encounter any. Given the density of the sticker bushes, I’m sure that the fish were stocked at the highway crossings. In the case of the route 97 area, you have to rely on the normal, downstream migration of the fish to get them into this area. Either that had not occurred yet (which is unlikely) or if they just huddled cold and semi-dormant at the bottom – blissfully unaware of my efforts to catch them. Given that, I think this section deserves another trip to see what it’s like once the weather warms up, the sun hits the water, and the insects begin to hatch
Getting There: From I270, take exit 4 for Montrose Road heading east. Stay left and follow the signs for Tower Oaks Blvd. Turn left onto Tower Oaks when you get there. Turn right on Wotton Pkwy that becomes 1st Street that turns into Norbeck Road. Turn left north onto Rt 97 and stay on it until you come to the river. The huge parking area is on the left.
Google Local Coordinates: 39.238436,-77.055788
Secrets Revealed? No. This is a very public location that is documented in the following places:
Date Fished: 03/18/2009
The massive size of the parking area is an indication of popularity
Upstream from the edge of the parking lot
Watch your waders! Sharp sticker bushes predominate! Bring your Garden Shears!
First nice hole upstream of the home on the southern bank
As it moves away from the parking, the river broadens slightly
Note the fallen tree in the distance – these occur frequently
Most of the river has high banks on one side or the other
The spots near fallen trees are usually deep
Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore