Two days on the Youghiogheny River afforded me the chance to work on a quite a few things, but none more than my presentation in fly casting. It helped that the “Yough” is a gorgeous freestone stream, fed by the cool waters of Deep Creek lake, surrounded by pine trees, rhododendron and plenty of leafy trees in the midst of their fall colors. I would frequently pause for up to ten minutes or more, perch on a rock and soak in the quiet, solitude and fresh mountain air. Taking all that time to unwind staring at the waters or forest would inevitably result in observing a rise or splashy take. And it was good to take my time because the falling leaves on the water was clearly messing with the trout.
At this time of year, not exactly a bug factory, the autumn hatches of caddis, midges and the odd terrestrial mixed in with floating yellow, gold, red and brown leaves drifting downriver meant it might be a few minutes before a trout revealed his lie to me. Long glassy runs and pools also meant I had to wade in excrutiatingly slow. I would then have to wait for the water to settle and finally cast, often downstream and across to a rising trout. 6x worked most often, and yet, it was big meaty dry flies that did the trick for me. Upon the advice of other anglers and my innkeeper, Don Herschfield (Streams and Dreams), I used a stimulator in the tailrace pool with great effect. And my own handtied black stoneflies made a good flying ant pattern that drove the rainbows nuts. Goldribbed hares ear nymphs and midge pupae worked in the riffles.
There was an abundance of wild fish and so they challenged me to really stop and consider the best way to approach the trout. I hid behind boulders in some cases, like up at the whale pool, or I would crouch and short cast, feeding line out down a channel toward where I spotted a couple of monster bows. In other situations I hid in plain site, waiting for the sun to come out from behind the clouds before casting so it would obscure my profile OR waiting for the sun to go behind the clouds so my fly would be worth looking up at.
On day one I just narrowly beat the 10am release at the powerplant, crossing the tailrace and leaving behind scores of rising fish in that pool. I decided to put in some effort and scrambled a mile upstream to the whale pool where boulders the size of cars and houses dotted the river and forced it into narrow runs and frothy shoots. Here I caught several 1 to 2 year old rainbows, but alas dredging the depths of the pool with a sinking line didn’t produce the leviathan I was expected. I did get brave and picked my way out into the boulders where I came cross some petroglyphs on a boulder facing downstream, but not visible from either bank. The first was of – I presume – either a native or the spirit of a crayfish – as the figure had claws for hands.
The others were I believe of the river itself and a jumping fish, and a spear or fishing weir. Of course there was no way to date them, but they were in such an out of the way position, and clearly told a fishing story, I couldn’t help but think they were messages left by the earliest settlers of this valley for other fishermen. And maybe they needed messages written in stone, after all, in Algonquin, “Youghiogheny” means a “stream flowing in a contrary direction” (the river flows south to north).
After about an hour, I decided to slowly backtrack downstream, with the the tailrace pool my destination once the release finished at about 1pm. At this stage in my progression as a fly fisher, I have a good sense of where trout will hold, and looked for areas where the river was forced into a narrow run, near the base of the largest boulders and the tailouts of micro-pools. I caught several more 2 year old rainbows this way nymphing.
Finally, I arrived back at the head of the long tailrace pool…and found rising fish. A caddis brought up my largest fish of the day. Easily 25″, the rainbow took off downstream like a bullet, scared the hell out of me, causing me to break him off. For the next several minutes the bow kept porpoising all the way downstream toward the bottom of the pool. I bit my hand I was so excited. Each jump into the air revealed the largest trout I’d ever hooked, but didn’t land.
With no further hits at the head I made my way into the bottom of the pool – and received great advice to tie on a stimulator which very quickly produced. There were easily twenty to thirty rises going on at a time. And my two largest fish of the day among others were on the stimulator or an adams. The pool was electric and fish came to hand every five casts for the next hour. Finally, I climbed out of the pool and sat on a rock, and watched the sun retreat over the hills as a fellow angler continued casting. There seemed a natural conclusion to a great day as the monster rainbow I hooked and broke off hours earlier porpoised one more time mid-pool, still trying to dislodge that pesky caddis, which I should add was barbless.
Weary, but satisfied, at dusk I decided to head in as a river otter slipped into the pool looking for dinner. And I’m pretty sure I could hear someone pouring me a beer two counties away. Later on over dinner at the Mountain State Brewing over a delicious amber beer, I was able to recount the day with Don and Karen, the innkeepers and frankly, riverkeepers of the Yough. I think they were very happy to hear the river was fishing well given its occasional troubles. Turns out the Yough has an unsustainable otter problem. Reintroduced with little thought to the wild trout population, the otters push out the trout that need to overwinter in the deep holes. MD DNR’s answer is to just keep stocking, when unmolested it’s a fine wild fishery. Another problem is that the Yough is also a whitewater river, and scheduled releases taking place in the warm months raises the temperature of the river, and that’s not good for trout.
A final problem is the hydropower plant (the one in MD) – while the infusion of cold water in the summer and winter helps regulate temps on the river with minimum flows, there have have been fishkills from poor management in the past. And on occasion the plant has drawn from the warmer part of the water column at Deep Creek. However, Maryland DNR maintains a 4-mile long C&R TFA that begins at the Deep Creek Lake Power Plant and ends at the Sang Run Bridge. Below that, the normal MD fishing regulations apply.
Day two I fished secret tributary of the Yough that a friend told me about, but alas, despite lovely scenery, and a couple of juveniles, the trout really hadn’t arrived. So I headed back to fishing the Upper Yough above the tailrace pool. Heading back to the same spot I hooked the monster rainbow, I knew such a prime hole would have other big fish, and it I wasn’t let down. The largest fish of the trip came to hand after casting a black stonefly meant to resemble a flying ant. The lengthy rainbow detached from the bottom, suddenly visible and rose through the water column to the fly, and with a quick turn of its head, he ate. I set the hook with a gentle sweeping motion and fought the rainbow downstream, then up, and carefully coaxed him to my hands. He bore a wound on his back – a stab from a blue heron, but I felt confident he would recover since plainly it hadn’t affected his appetite. At about “19 he barely fit in my hand, after the quick grip-n-grin, I released him under his own power. While I only got into wild rainbows and no browns, I left the Yough feeling very appreciative that places like this still exist. Sure they’re off the beaten path, and you’ve got to drive past prime water like the Savage and North Branch of the Potomac, but I find if you’re willing to walk the extra mile down the path, you’ll find solitude and wild places where wild things still dwell.
For more info on fishing the Youghiogheny, pickup a copy of Charlie Gelso and Larry Coburn’s Guide to Maryland Trout Fishing. Or better yet, give Don and Karen Hershfeld a call at Streams and Dreams, and consider staying with them, their hospitality, waffles, and trout library will knock your socks off.