Gunpowder River Fly Fishing

Tim Linehan and his guest Joe McGurrin join veteran Gunpowder guide Wally Vait on the “home waters” of many of Washington, DC’s power brokers. Just outside of Baltimore, and an easy drive from the nation’s capital, the Gunpowder is a scenic and challenging wild trout fishery, and an example of conservation in action. The reservoir that feeds the Gunpowder is part of Baltimore’s water supply, and a TU-brokered agreement led to the establishment of minimum flows to maintain trout habitat in the river. And further upstream, TU volunteers are restoring tributaries to ensure that clean cold water continues to flow.
“It’s amazing to think that this stream exists only a short drive from Baltimore and Washington. It has so many different kinds of water — pocketwater, deep pools, spring-creek-like runs — and it’s so accessible. It seemed like every time we came around a corner, there was another fabulous looking piece of water, and more often than not, the fish were there, too. Trout Unlimited can really be proud of this stream!”
The Gunpowder watershed is the finest wild trout fishery in Maryland and one of the best in the mid-Atlantic region. Big Gunpowder Falls supports naturally reproducing populations of browns, rainbows and native brookies; and Little Gunpowder Falls, due in large part to TU efforts, is a put and take fishery with ever-improving water quality. In addition to the high caliber of this fishery, it is a model for two types of TU recovery projects.
Most readily apparent to the angler are the improvements in water control ironed out with the City of Baltimore on Big Gunpowder Falls. In 1987 the Maryland Chapter of Trout Unlimited negotiated a memorandum of understanding with the City of Baltimore guaranteeing minimum flows and acceptable temperatures. This agreement has provided a regulated habitat in which trout have thrived.
Benefits of more recent TU efforts on Little Gunpowder Falls are less striking to the angler but no less important for the future. Little Gunpowder was threatened by sedimentation and nitrate rich farm runoff. TU’s Maryland Chapter recognized this problem in 1993 and put into motion a riparian forest restoration project combining the forces of TU, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Forest Service and local landowners. In a story that has become so common throughout the United States, land owners, government agencies and conservation groups have come together to achieve a common goal.
The Gunpowder is a tailwater, and harbors wild brown, brook, and rainbow trout thanks to fish-friendly flows from Prettyboy Dam, part of Baltimore’s municipal water system. The Gunpowder offers a broad variety of habitat, and excellent insect hatches. Caddis are abundant, as are mayflies (especially sulfurs), and the river can offer some challenging “hatch-matching” angling. Nymphs also are good producers. The scenic qualities of the Gunpowder are unparalleled, especially for a small to medium sized stream so close to two metropolitan areas. The upper sections below the dam are heavily wooded, and offer pocket water and swift runs. The lower sections are classic riffle-run sequences, with some longer pools that can come alive when tricos or other mayflies are on the water.
Brown Trout: Salmo trutta
Although it is native to European waters, the brown trout has been widely planted in the US and reproduces naturally in a broad range of streams and rivers, including the Gunpowder. Brown trout are known for their selective feeding behavior — more than any other trout, browns are likely to get “picky” about which flies they are interested in, especially during a mayfly hatch or spinner-fall. At the same time, big browns are often on the lookout for a big meal, and will hit a streamer or woolly-bugger under the right circumstances. Brown trout feed most heavily at night; the hours right before and after nightfall are often the most productive.
Brook Trout: Salvelinus fontinalis
Brook trout, the only trout native to the Eastern US, are more numerous in the Gunpowder’s tributaries, but are occasionally caught in the main stem of the river.
Rainbow Trout: Oncorhynchus mykiss
The swifter, more aerated sections of the Gunpowder hold some rainbow trout.
ROD: Sage “Ought Weight”, 7 feet for 0 weight line
REEL: Integrated centerline reel.
FLIES: The Gunpowder is a true “hatch matching” river: you’ll want up to the minute hatch and fly-selection info if you go. Check out Wally Vait’s “On the Fly” site:
We were on the Gunpowder in June, when the sulfur mayfly hatch can be fabulous, but in the fall especially, this is a great terrestrial stream. Fish along the banks with ant, beetle, or cricket pattern to fish rising under low-hanging vegetation. You’ll be amazed at the big fish that can be caught on a size 18 or 20 ant!

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