What’s around the next bend in the river? What’s over the next hill? These questions plague us anglers. The prospects of new water with prolific hatches, large trout and little pressure are the primary reasons why we choose to leave our loved and learned favorite waters and beats. This past saturday lured by the the remote spot on a map and anecdotes of good fishing I ventured to an area of Western Maryland. Initially this began as a search for more brookie water, but after research, it has become an historical expedition of sorts, to fish up to the source of the Potomac river. It’ll take several trips to get there.
In 1649, a then exiled King Charles II, issued the Northern Neck grant for all of the land that lay between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers in the new colony of Virginia. Lord Fairfax inherited this land grant in 1719 and finally in 1736 a team made up of John Savage and Peter Jefferson surveyed the land up to the source of the Potomac River. John had a certain river named after him nearby and Pete, well, his son wrote the Declaration of Independence, became president and is on the nickel. As was typical of the age, John and Pete laid a stone at the source of the Potomac (in West Virginia) there-by claiming all of the lands draining into, that of their boss, Lord Fairfax the 6th of Cameron…hmm…a new nickname for Adam?
Numerous floats down the North Branch from Barnum to Bloomington left me wondering what was above the dam and Randolph Jennings lake. What was up there, what was the fishing like, how do I get there? I poured over maps all winter, made plots on Google Earth, uploaded them to my GPS, and scoured the inter-webs for any info on the fishing. Anecdotal accounts of the fishing were minimal and lead me to some skepticism. But all anecdotes were spoken in hushed tones. That typically mitigates some of the skepticism.
The game plan was to get up early and hit the road for a quick day trip on Saturday. Gear was loaded into La Poderosa and South we went. Once in Maryland there was no real direct way to get to where I intended to go, so fumbling with maps, GPS and the IPhone finally got me to the forest road I was looking for. Three miles down the winding dirt road lead me along a promising brook trout stream and ultimately to the North Branch.
Waders on, 3w strung and weighed down with camera gear I step foot for the first time many beats closer to Lord Fairfax’s stone than I had ever been before. The river here can still be classified as big water. Working up through several pools and runs with a small grannom caddis to no luck I notice little bug life popping off in the late morning sun and switch to a stonefly nymph and fish the heavier white water. This was the right move. Shortly after moving to a pool above where the brook trout stream joins the Potomac I hook into a small stocked rainbow. This part of the the river is stocked by both the Maryland and West Virginia but the area I was in is regulated as delayed harvest. I work my way up around the next bend and land several more rainbows.
I decide to turn back and try out the brookie stream. A little bit of a rock scramble gets me from the confluence up to the first massive pool. The deep sapphire blue water leads up to a natural water slide cut through the rocks over the eons. A few quick casts, no risers, I move on. A bridge for a hiking trail passes overhead as I climb my way up stream. At the next series of pools I find what I was looking for. The classic cascade of small pools with multiple brookies and an occasional seemingly wild rainbow trout in each. Jumping from pool to pool and not having seen a single soul the entire day I’m feeling refreshed and satisfied.
The stream eventually cuts through a deceivingly tricky and narrow mini canyon whose sides are choked with mountain laurel making passage very difficult. Not wanting to snap my new 3wt in the tangle of laurel limbs or from an untimely trip and fall down the canyon sides, I decide I’ve done well enough and head back down stream. I work my way back picking up a few more brookies and another rainbow before stepping out of the stream and onto a hiking trail. The trail leads back to where I left La Poderosa. Along the way I find the trail registry and of course had to sign in the bug chucker fashion.
On the drive back up the forest road I stop to check out a gorgeous waterfall far up on the same brookie stream.
I point La Poderosa back up the forest road until I hit tarmac. From there I decide to see how long it takes to get to the Savage instead of heading up to the Fairfax Stone. That’s an adventure for another day soon. This was a quick expedition to see how viable the fishing would be for our up coming BCI Spring trip. The N. Branch of the Potomac has surprised me yet again, and there’s still more to explore…