This would be a strange trip to pack for, mostly because after six or seven years of camping and fishing in the Savage River State Park, this would be the first time I ever stayed in a cabin. As I loaded down my 4×4 with fellow fisherman, Jim Fowler, I found myself having to skip over many of my typical trip essentials. I traded out items such as my tent, camp stove, jumbo-sized cooler, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, waterproofing tarps and rope to make room for items such as my MacBook and RAID external drive —as well as a full bag of photography and videography equipment and a fully equipped fly tying station for two! I would be waking up every morning to an alarm clock instead of the heat and light of the sun (which troubled me at first, but I later relaxed when I remembered we would have a full kitchen and refrigerator). Yes that’s right, a refrigerator! So we brought… ribs, chicken, bacon, eggs, sausages, collard greens, carrots, salad mix, spring onions, raspberries, garlic, BBQ sauce, beans, rice, and a whole hell of a lot of Old Bay! With massive smiles on our faces, Jim and I closed the hatch of my 4×4 and headed out of town!
The music of choice was bluegrass: Hot Rize Live at the Boulder Theatre, and a brand new album from a wonderful string band, Volume 5. We followed our mountain music up with a helping of Jethro Tull, and sandwiched the heavy-flute, psychedelic hard rock with some good old Dylan. We sort of covered all of our musical bases—for there was even this short period of time somewhere on the border of West Virginia where we were cruising the gravel roads bumping some old school hip-hop. We only stopped to refuel once, made turkey sandwiches, and hit the road jack…before we knew it we turned onto Savage River Road, officially entering the park! We rounded the first bend of the Savage Reservoir, Jim glaring out the window with gambler’s grin, rubbing his hands together like he has just rolled lucky 7’s. And as we pulled into Savage River Outfitters, Jim’s grin grew wider. We had just made it in time to meet our buddy, Western Maryland local, Patrick! Before I could even open my door, Jim was out of the car and taking in the scenery: a boulder lined, tail-water snakes its way through a brilliantly green Appalachian Valley. Towering, leafy canopies sweep their way across the rolling landscape. Your heart skips a beat as your mind attempts to absorb the utter brilliance—the beauty of this state park and its river and streams.
I made my way around the main house to find our friend Patrick conversing with the owner of outfitter, Mike Evans, and one of the guides, Charlie. We shared our greetings, checked into our cabin, and then settled into the deck chairs to talk about the fishing. “The river is only flowing at 55 CFS…and the upper river and its brook trout feeder streams are nearly dry!” We failed to check the river gauges! “Oh well,” I said, “we will make due, and at least we have beer!” “Hey Patrick,” I remarked, “How bout’ a beer?” “Sure thing Austin,” he smiled, “How about a cigarette?” And so we drank beer and reminisced about American pastimes… bluegrass music firearms, pick-up trucks, and of course—fishing. Bright orange cigarette embers faded to ashes and Patrick’s diesel Chevy kicked up gravel as it accelerated down the road. Jim and I rigged up our rods, slipped on our waders, and we were off to explore the fancy of catching an evening hatch.
The Savage River is a marvelous tail-water, flowing swiftly through a maze of extremely slippery boulders—extremely difficult to wade. Its waters ripple, bubble, and foam as they part around the larger boulders and spill into a multitude of different little pools and runs—technical pocket-water heaven. My method of choice was sulphur wet flies; swung downstream through the various pockets and foamy white shoots. The result was a “dinker” brown and a beautiful little brookie. The fishing was slow…very, very slow. Sulphurs were popping off, but the fish weren’t interested, nor were they interested in any other dry fly for that matter. They continually sipped midge emergers…and they were so particular that there wasn’t a midge pattern in my box that they would touch—even on 7x with a perfectly drag-less drift. It was getting dark, with little to show, so we pulled the plug on the evening, and wandered back to the cabin.
As dusk fell upon the state forest, nearly still, deep run was disrupted by a series of lightly sipping brown trout—gentle dips that were barely noticeable in this light. The pool flowed against an immense rock wall, longer that it was tall—stretching the entire length of this small section of the river. The trout sipped where the water rounded a large corner of the rock-wall—the dips formed where the midges they sipped. The emergers were engulfed in the dips, the dips where the brown trout sipped. And then the Sulphurs began to pop… fluttering, bright orange-yellow entomical fairies. I didn’t have the pattern to match the midge hatch, so instead, I strategically tied on a Sulphur wet fly. I drifted the fly downstream, waited until it was upon the noses of the feeding trout, and lifted the rod tip to simulate an emerging sulphur. Millimeters before the fly broke through the surface film my line went tight—fish on!
The trout held strong on the bottom (I wasn’t sure how big it was and only had on 6x, so I played it gently until it showed signs of exhaustion). All the while I was yelling for Jim to get the camera. He quickly became frustrated under the pressure of my hootin’ and hollering, but was still able to slide my camera bag off of my shoulder and work the camera controls without any light to view the buttons. A few minutes later this fish was ready to get the fly out of his flesh and let me bring him in—and to my delight I was able to net him. Jim exclaimed that it was a 16-17 inch fish…W. R. Lepczyk claimed it only looked 13-14 inches in the photograph—I’ll call it 15 inches. What a beautiful fish for such a heavily pressured pool…a beautiful fish for what was to become a painstakingly slow rest of our weekend.
“Any luck?!” I would holler as we walked along the river trail. “Just dinkers,” various fishermen would reply, “A few this morning, nothing special.” The water became lower and lower throughout the weekend; the reservoir was running dry. We found this puzzling for the rest of the Northeast was experiencing a monsoon season—it rained every single day of spring in Vermont. It was hot, dry, and Jim wasn’t happy. We woke up bright and early the next morning to try to catch the morning bite, and turn this trip around. I led Jim on one pain-in-the ass trek through forests of Japanese knotweed and boulders as slick as ice—the final mile and a half stretch leading up to the dam. “But how beautiful it is!” A winding, rocky watercourse of cold, bottom release H2O slithered through a misty river gorge. The water was way low (in case you missed that part of the story), and a multitude of slimy, rounded stones and boulders lined its banks. Groves of Japanese Knotweed emerged from between the rocks, thick like bamboo, making hiking nearly impossible. You were, A: Slipping on rocks, B: Bushwhacking through the groves of this thick stemmed weed, or C: Both.
We had finally managed to stir a few bites on tiny size 24 Zebra Midges—inquisitive nudges at most. The beauty factor of the location of our trip was electrifying, but still, not as satisfying as the prospect of picking the lock on this river. Jim was certainly less focused on the beauty of this state park and more focused on our lack of piscatorial connection. Secretly, I was just as disappointed; but I suppose fishing is called fishing for a reason! “I give up,” Jim stated as he rested his rod against a bush, slid down the bank, and sat on a boulder to watch me fish. “This isn’t worth it,” he turned to me and said, “to come out here all this way to catch nothing while I could be catching nothing at home on “The Gunpowder.” I tried to counter his statement, but he stopped me saying, “It’s just my personal opinion bro.” He bowed his head in silence.
The sun broke through the clouds, and shinned glorious beams of light into a deep, swift run—parted by two gargantuan boulders where thick foam and bubbles gave way into the glassy backend of this pool. The beams of light glorified tiny bits of algae, vegetation, and various aquatic insects. Jim studied the pool and falling into the meditation of it all, his face turned from depressed to collected and cool… “Everything is all good.” he said, “This river may not be as easy as I though it was, but I am learning a lot and experiencing a beautiful place. And that’s all that matters!” He smiled. We certainly had one hell of a good time shootin’ the breeze in Savage River State Park.
We would like to give a big thanks to AFTCO – American Fishing Tackle Co. for supplying us with fishing apparel to wear on our trip. Their fishing shorts, jackets, and hats look badass and perform incredibly! We would also like to thank Mike Evans at Savage River Outfitters for housing us and showing us a great time on our trip! We highly recommend this outfitter, his cabins, and his guide service. The insides of the cabins are astounding! They are extremely clean, with all the amenities you could ever need on a fishing trip, and the decor puts your right in the fishing state of mind. This would be a wicked awesome honeymooner’s location for the fishing couple looking for a spot to get romantic in the mid-atlantic. Mike and his follow guide Charlie are extremely knowledgable fly fishermen and we highly recommend booking a guide trip with them on The Savage River. While the fishing wasn’t at its best during this particular trip, The Savage River is an astonishingly good fishery and houses some massive Brown trout–all of us at The Uncommon Angler can vouch for that fact from our past visits to the state park. Savage River state park is located in Garrett County, Maryland; due west of Cumberland on I-68–Western Maryland. The outfitter is located at: 2721 Savage River Road, Swanton, Md. 21561. Mike Evans can be reached at (703)-517-1040, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Austin Green.