Maryland Fly Fishing
You probably know that Maryland is home to the United States Naval Academy, and that the nation’s capital is just a hop, skip, and a jump away. But did you know that the state is made up of nearly 22% water? And that this tiny piece of land offers fly fishermen both saltwater and freshwater angling experiences? Next time you’re going to be in the area, you might want to cast a line in some of the unique waterways that make Maryland special.
Where to Go?
Whether you’re looking to land your first big striper on the fly, or seeking serenity and seclusion on the banks of a wooded trout stream, you’ll find a plethora of options tucked away throughout the state, from the rivers of the far northwest corner to the famous Chesapeake Bay. In addition, the Maryland DNR works hard every year stocking dozens of streams and ponds with trout, which further enhances the fly fisherman’s experience.
At the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay lie the legendary Susquehanna Flats. This grassy shoal harbors clear, shallow waters and is a favorite feeding hole for the prized monster stripers. The area – which is situated at the mouth of the Susquehanna River – measures under 10 miles long, but can yield some truly incredible fish.
The important thing to remember when fishing the Susqy Flats is that water temperature plays a huge role, and a change of just a couple of degrees can mean the difference between nothing biting and regular hits. Move around, using a water temp gauge if possible, and be persistent. When one area is fruitless, another slightly warmer spot may very well be productive.
You also want to be very careful and if you’re not confident in your ability to read the bottom, take an experienced Bay fisherman with you. The edges of the flats tend to consist of deep ditches, whereas the shallower areas – which serve as roads for baitfish – are toward the middle. The water can go from four feet to ten in a very short distance, so you want to remain extremely alert and cautious. Wading is difficult in the flats but floating can be a very rewarding experience.
The Savage River
Up in the far northwest corner of the state you’ll find the Savage River State Forest. The Savage River runs through this wilderness area, and while the 20-mile long upper freestone section is difficult to access, there is a tailwater created by the dam at the Savage River Reservoir. This branch flows for five miles before emptying into the Potomac River. The upper portion is stocked with rainbows, just above the reservoir, and this is the only put and take area in the watershed.
The lower section of the Savage – the tailrace – contains some impressive wild browns, a few rainbows that spill over from the upper river and swim up from the Potomac, and stunning (protected) brookies. There is good access to the tailwaters along Savage River Road, just be careful not to wander in behind houses – this is private property and the landowners also own the river bottom behind their houses.
The first one and a quarter miles below the reservoir are managed as a Fly Fishing Only Trophy Trout Management Area. From the end of this area at the Allegany Bridge all the way to the mouth of the river two and three quarters of a mile downstream is a Trophy Trout Management Area in which you can only use artificial flies. These areas have year-round fishing with a 12-inch minimum for brookies, 18-inch minimum for browns, no size minimum for rainbows, and a two trout creel limit.
Not only will you enjoy stellar trout fishing on the Savage, but the scenery is worth the trip all by itself. The surrounding hardwoods and hemlocks flood the hillsides, while azaleas and rhododendron dot the borders.
The Potomac River
Along the Potomac, in the southern central part of the state, you’ll find access to excellent opportunities for smallmouth and largemouth bass, walleye, musky, carp, and panfish. Riverbend Park offers access to the river, where wading and floating are both effective. The river features pools, runs, boulders, and submersed trees which give shelter to the fish.
There are restrictions for the North Branch of the Potomac, from Lostland Run to the upper border of the Potomac State Forest is catch-and-release and artificial lure only from October 1 until June 15.
Big Gunpowder Falls River
This area is attractive because it’s located not far from Baltimore, giving urban dwellers the chance to cast a line without traveling a great distance. Technically a tailwater, the river begins at Prettyboy Dam and empties into the Loch Raven Reservoir. The laurels and ferns that line the riverside trails make this a favorite scenic destination of fishermen and hikers alike.
The first 7.5 miles of the river are catch-and-release only, while the area below that is a “wild stream” which allows anglers to keep two fish. Further downstream is a put-and-take that is stocked with 7000 rainbows per year – you can keep five fish daily out of this area. Access is available via Masemore Road.
When to Go?
Maryland offers year-round fishing but there are definitely some times that are better than others. Early spring is best for stripers on Chesapeake Bay – from April to May is when you’ll have the best chance. Again in October and November the fish start to come back into the shallow tributary waters – early in the morning is the best time to hit these areas, using surface flies.
April to mid-June is a good time for dry flies along the Upper Savage. Wading the Lower Savage is most doable in the low water levels of mid-summer.
Hit the Potomac in the early morning or evening, especially from early April through September.
What You Will Need When You Get There
Pack your usual gear – waders, vest, hat, rain jacket, boots, insect spray, sunscreen, water, fingerless gloves, nippers, measuring tape, and other accessories. In addition, you’ll want a wading staff and possibly cleats for your boots. Because the terrain in many of these waters is so swiftly changing, and boulders and slick rocks line the bottoms of the rivers, safety equipment is a must.
A note of caution – Maryland is one of the growing list of states who have banned felt-soled waders due to the danger of spreading didymo (rock snot) and other invasive nuisances which endanger aquatic habitats. Leave the felt soles out of your pack this trip.
The recommended rig for the Potomac is a 9-foot 7 weight with 0X tippet and 9-foot leader, with freshwater bass fly line. Fly patterns to have on-hand include crayfish, large streamers, woolly buggers, and large poppers.
For the Savage you’ll want a 9 or 10-foot 4 weight with 5X or 6X tippet and 9-foot leader, with double taper trout fly line. Flies should include caddis, duns, parachutes, woolly buggers, midges, nymphs, copper johns, and sculpins. Pre-June on the Lower Savage you’ll get good action from quills, midges, BWOs, and small stoneflies. Once summer hits try sulphurs, caddis, and yellow sallies.
The Chesapeake Bay calls for a 9-foot 9 weight with 20 lb. tippet and density compensated full sink fly line. Bait here will be different from the rivers – you’ll want imitators for eels, crabs, shad, menhaden, herring, crease flies, half and half sinking clousers, and other similar baitfish.
At Gunpowder River you’ll want about an 8.5-foot 4 weight with a 5X tippet and 9-foot leader. Effective flies vary from midges to woolly buggers, hare’s ear nymphs, blue-winged olives, streamers, BWOs, ants, and spiders.
Fishing License Requirements
People age 16 and older will need to obtain a fishing license from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. A non-tidal, freshwater license costs $20.50 for residents, and $30.50 for non-residents – or the reciprocal fee of the state of residence, whichever is higher. Residents can get a one-week license for $7.50 while non-residents can get one for a fee equal to that charged by your home state for a non-resident license. Three-day licenses are only available to non-residents and are charged at the rate the your home state charges for non-residents.
Fishing for trout requires a trout stamp, which costs residents $5 and non-residents $10. This stamp allows you to fish in catch-and-release areas as well as to possess trout within the legal limits when fishing non-tidal waters.
You’ll need a separate recreation fishing license if you plan to hit the Chesapeake Bay. An annual resident license costs $15, while non-residents pay $22.50. Residents age 65 and older can purchase a consolidated freshwater and coastal license for the cost of $5. Virginia and Maryland have a number of reciprocity agreements for the use of either state’s licenses when fishing the Chesapeake Bay or Potomac River saltwaters. Be sure the check out the details before casting in a different state than the one that issued your license.
The stunning scenery and variety of fishing opportunities that Maryland has to offer make this state a winner for fly fishermen looking for a challenge. From the saltwater stripers in Chesapeake Bay to traditional cold water tailrace trout angling, you’ll find an exciting array of species, landscapes, and techniques required across the Free State. If you haven’t yet put this beautiful east coast fly fishing destination on your list, it’s time to do so.