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Brook Trout Fishing Report, Catoctin National Park and Cunningham Falls State Park, Maryland

Catoctin Mountain Brook Trout
Catoctin Mountain Brook Trout

Business meetings, those time sucking depressions on my calendar, the black holes of a productive and joyful life. Presumed to be a necessity of IT consulting, sometimes they are only bearable if they are close to some fishable water…

I’ve recently found myself in Maryland working for a client and just last week realized there might be some fishing opportunities near their offices. Knowing this last meeting was really going to, uh, “present some challenges” as the corporate doodie heads like to say, I scoured the map for water and saw that a 45 minute drive would put me in the middle of good trout streams and near what could be some brook trout habitat. The next step was going to be more challenging than the meeting, but so much better — finding out if there were fish.

I scooted out of the meeting (the worst I’ve had in years) and drove up I-270 to the Catoctin Mountains, near Thurmont, Maryland. There are in fact brook trout up there, and nice ones. The Maryland DNR seems to keep this a little bit under the radar, but some reading and a little exploring pays off. The DNR claims “20 native trout streams” in the Catoctin Mountains. If that actually means twenty brook trout streams, that’s amazing. My hunch is that this means twenty wild trout streams — a different thing — but I could be wrong and maybe there really are twenty different native brook trout streams in the area. However, that would rival the number of native trout streams in Shenandoah National Park (30+), which is a much bigger area and a much healthier brook trout habitat. It is hard to believe the Catoctin Mountain area comes that close.

Catoctin Mountain Brook Trout 2
Same brook trout as above. Wide open f-stop -- it was almost sunset on a very shady stream.

Anyway, I found one of those places, a headwaters section of a known stocked stream in the Catoctin Mountains with public access. The fish in the photos was caught on a small Royal Wulff. A very small Royal Wulff. I had tied it with too much hackle and too much wing, and I ended up trimming it down a couple weeks prior on one of my recent brook trout outings. It ended up as a micro Wulff by the time I’d finished. So… I was crawling up the edge of this stream in Maryland on hands and knees and at this particular pool this fish was jumping after small mayflies on the water. It broke the surface three times before I first cast to him. And I first cast to him successfully after pulling my fly out of the same tree twice in two backcasts. Not sure why I often don’t remember the tree is there after the first backcast gets snagged. Between the time you pull the branch down (or climb the tree, and get the fly, untangle the line wrapped around the branch and re-sharpen the hook) and the time you cast again, you forget that — hey — there is a tree back there and you’ve got to make some adjustments. But I sorted that out and got him on the third or fourth drift. Very cool! I suspected it was a brook trout when he first splashed. He certainly was. I hooked and lost a much bigger one just upstream. I know, sounds like a fish story, but it’s fact. Those were the only two I caught or hooked in my short hour on this stream.

You can poke around and find this water easily enough. I’m not under the illusion that this blog gets so much traffic that simply publishing the name of a stream is going to overwhelm it with people tromping around and mishandling these little native fish, but it is of some concern. If a half dozen people pulled up and accessed this particular stream it would be overwhelming — it is that small. But if the DNR website is correct and this is one of, well, let’s say one of “a bunch” of streams that are probably very similar, then at the very least there are a few others in that area. If the Maryland DNR wants to keep some of the pressure off these streams, I understand and sorry if that miffs any of you, but again I’ll say this if you want to catch brook trout in this area — just drive around. You’ll find some.

Earlier in the week I headed to another stream that I had seen mentioned somewhere. I think it is likely there are brook trout in it but I caught none. I did see some small fish and they could have been young of the year brookies, but I’ll need to go back there to investigate a little more. There may be at least a couple other spots that look good nearby and probably once held brook trout. Another meeting will be another excuse to try this spot again.

On both of the trips this week I was also able to fish Big Hunting Creek, in Cunningham Falls State Park. I managed to hook two brown trout on a Kaufman’s Stimulator on the first outing (the first fish spit the hook and the second broke me off around the log he was hiding under), and yesterday I was even more thoroughly skunked. I did meet one other fisherman who said he had hooked a rainbow but lost it and he’d seen a 20″ rainbow in a pool but it did not rise or seem interested when he tried to entice it. He was fishing a double nymph rig with a Copper John and some sort of caddis pupa under a Thingamabobber, which he said was roughly recommended to him by the guys at Hunting Creek Outfitters. Big Hunting Creek is a beautiful stream. A little crowded but I think heading up here in some crappy weather would not only keep the angling pressure low but make for much better fishing than a bluebird day like yesterday.