Email notifications have become like white noise. Too often the pop up in the corner of my computer screen distracts my attention from work at hand, but very rarely do I switch over to Outlook to see what content the email shares. However, this week, the words “Preseason Trout Stocking: February 2021” immediately caught my attention. I instantly clicked on the email heading that takes me to the email. Was a nearby stream stocked? When can I get there? Will it be too crowded? The Maryland DNR Trout Stocking site leads to a helpful web map that shows the location of a stocking, the date, and the amount and type of trout that were stocked. A one stop shop for finding a fishing spot.
This week, multiple streams within 45 minutes of my house were stocked. I had not fished the South Branch of the Patapsco River before even though it is 20 minutes from my house. I have hiked along this stretch of river several times with my family, noticing habitat features that create a diversity of structure, flow depths, and velocities. I kept mental notes of those features, thinking I’d love to fish them in the future. After the email notice, the time to fish the areas was now.
Friday evening and Saturday afternoon, I spent time driving into the McKeldin Area of Patapsco State Park off of Marriottsville Road and River Road. After driving, hiking, and wading across several miles of the South Branch, I found some space to fish where I thought the stocked fish might be.
The South Branch near Sykesville, Maryland, is typical of a Maryland Piedmont stream. Sycamores, with distinctive white and gray mottled bark, and river birch, with brown and gray papery, peeling bark, line the stream banks. Their gray and pinkish root systems extend into the water, stabilizing the trees and protecting the stream banks, forming intricate nets filled with soil, gravel, and boulders. The interfaces between the streambed, banks and trees create pathways of resistance for the flowing water, leaving scars in the floodplains from strong, heavy floods and smooth boulder-lined pathways for fish to hide and feed in. It’s often in the areas where the clear, shallow water transitions to deeper water (gaining a greenish tint) where the fish reside.
Looking for those areas is my normal approach to reading a river. But after a stocking, there are different signals. Stocking trucks and email notifications can gather a crowd of anglers. Normally, where two or more anglers are gathered, there are trout in the stream. Golden rainbow trout are often stocked, as well. There are not many gold and orange objects in suburban Maryland stream channels, except for the errant traffic cone. Often, I’ll walk along a stocked route to look to see if I can spot a small goldish-orange spot in the water column, particularly in areas where the stocking truck could easily pull off the road and access the stream.
Each day I found some new locations and was able to catch three or four fish. As I walked to and from my truck, I observed the anglers fishing along the route. One particular angler caught my attention. He was by himself, using a spinning rod and casting to an open pool area. I peered into the pool and didn’t see any movement or golden spots near the streambed. He had a nervous energy and didn’t seem sure of his movements, As I walked by, he made eye contact and asked if I had any luck. I told him I had caught a few. He quickly told me he hadn’t come here before and he wasn’t sure if the fish were biting. I almost said good luck and kept walking, but I hesitated. I mentioned to him about the strategy for looking for the goldies as they typically indicated a larger pod of rainbows. I told him that the spots typically correspond with a safer area for a stocking truck to pull off to the side of the road. I wished him luck, and he thanked me for the tip. With that, he reeled up his line and moved downstream observing the road and then the stream. I walked back to the truck smiling, hoping he would hook into a rainbow.
I peeled off my waders as the icy veneer crackled and broke off the boots. I thought back to my first time catching a stocked trout with Mark and Brian. I was excited, scared, and lacking confidence. I didn’t want to look like an idiot in front of my friends, but they were welcoming, gracious, and wonderful teachers. A feeling of gratitude for the help of my friends and the joy of my hobby came over me. I realized that my growth as an angler and fly tier, my connection to the fly fishing community, and my friendships enhanced by fly fishing have brightened my life. As part of my self-reflection, I began to think of how, during a pandemic when people have been isolated, unemployed, overworked, and generally stressed by life, fly fishing has been a lighthouse at times when I have needed it.
Preparing to write my blog this morning, I sat to take notes in the green rocking chair in our living room. Looking to my left I saw the beautiful snowman rug that my mother-in-law made for us. Again I was brought back to the power of hobbies, the sense of community they can bring, and the tremendous experiences they can add to our lives. My mother-in-law initiated a connection to rug hooking through friendships and the appreciation of textile crafts. Over the past 20-30 years, she has developed a strong connection to a community of supportive rug hookers who have helped teach her new techniques, encouraged her to complete projects, and become her dear friends. Seeking a hobby, especially during stressful moments in our lives or in response to life-changing events, can add purpose and give our lives direction, connect us to people with similar interests, and expand our worlds.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be exploring the journey of starting new hobbies. Next week will be Part 2. Thank you to my mother-in-law for giving me a wonderful interview on how she grew in her rug hooking hobby.