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Sizzlin Feature

Fishing For A Dip

Looking for clean water? Look for guys in hip waders

Photographs By The City Paper Kayak-Camô
Liberty Dam at Liberty Reservoir
Aquatic life at Morgan Run Natural Environment Area.

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By Van Smith | Posted 5/19/2010

Here's a rule of thumb for day-dippers in the Baltimore area: To find a place to soak in the cleanest, coldest water around, follow the trout. Whether brown, rainbow, or brook trout, these fish must have relatively cold, clean, clear streams to survive. With the spread of human habitation, such places have become increasingly scarce, but wherever trout can be found, the water--where it pools to a few feet of depth--will tend to provide refreshing places for escaping the city heat for an idyllic picnic and a swim. Finding access to trout streams near Baltimore can be a challenge, but applying a bit of strategy can pay off with spots to return to year after year.

Generally speaking, the most accessible trout-worthy streams in the Baltimore region can be found just upstream or just downstream of the metropolitan area's three reservoirs: Liberty, Prettyboy, and Loch Raven. "Just downstream" means, of course, just below the dams that create these massive bodies of water, and care must be taken to avoid overly strong currents. But the water quality will tend to be better, and the temperatures colder, than further downstream below the dams, where runoff from the surrounding suburbs increasingly degrades and heats up the stream water.

For a comprehensive listing of trout streams in Maryland--including their locations in latitude and longitude--go to and click around until you find the Free State's list. All three of the reservoir watersheds' trout streams are listed, as are those along the clean-running Little Gunpowder Falls. 

(As always, to avoid all risk of possible infection from waterborne microbes, be sure to keep your head above water and to avoid exposing open cuts or sores to the water. And be smart about it--if there's been a heavy rain recently, or if the water just looks yucky, it probably isn't worth getting into it. If there's gray scum lining the rocks, if there's a gray-colored tinge to the water, or if it smells like sewage, stay out.)

Just below Liberty Dam, the north branch of the Patapsco River is ideal for an accessible dip. Just upstream from Marriottsville Road, the trail along the river meanders through marshy spots and mountain laurel and ends at a rocky outcropping with a majestic view of the dam. Along the way, pools well up here and there as the current subsides, providing tempting places to wade and relax in the clear-running stream. Downstream of Marriottsville Road, the north and south branches join in the McKeldin Area of the Patapsco Valley State Park, providing more possibilities for a swim. Following the south branch upstream--especially along River Road, which has stream-side parking--are also promising spots for a dip.

Above Liberty Reservoir, the Morgan Run Natural Environment Area in Carroll County provides a little-used option for trout-stream dipping. The spot is found at the dead end of Jim Bowers Road, where a long-demolished bridge's abutments still stand and Morgan Run pools up to a level of several feet. A favorite with trout fishermen, this stretch of the stream is about a quarter mile from the parking area and is flush with frog-sustaining marshy areas. On our visit, we found a baby snapping turtle and, having spotted small snakes in the river, kept a watchful eye while in the water.

Prettyboy Reservoir features a bottom-release dam that empties frigid, clean, clear water into the Gunpowder River. Popular for tubing and trout-fishing, the current is strong as the stream rushes down to lower elevations. But it levels off and provides calmer areas for teeth-chattering soaks as the Gunpowder crosses Falls Road and, further downstream, Masemore Road. All of this stretch of the stream is in Gunpowder Falls State Park, so there are no restrictions to public access.

Upstream from Prettyboy Reservoir, the Gunpowder extends through several hundred acres of watershed land along Gunpowder Road, owned by the City of Baltimore. This stretch of the river is easily accessible, but ruled by the city's watershed regulations, which prohibit swimming or wading in an effort to preserve the reservoir's quality as a source of drinking water. (Signs announce these regulations wherever they are in play, which includes many areas around all three reservoirs.) Further upriver, where the city's rules don't apply, the Gunpowder meanders through private land, reducing swimming opportunities for most people.

Downstream from the Prettyboy Dam, the Gunpowder meanders through Monkton, Glencoe, and Sparks before entering Loch Raven Dam. The Northern Central Rail Trail follows alongside here and there, providing access to perfectly suitable trout-sustaining water for swimming. Several of the tributaries entering the Gunpowder here are clean, clear trout streams, with their own swimming possibilities, and one--Piney Creek--is known for the particularly sensitive native brook trout, which require the cleanest, coldest water of Maryland's trout.

Immediately below Loch Raven Dam, the Gunpowder generally (though not always) runs too briskly for swimmers, though trout fisherman in waders are often trying their luck, particularly along Notchcliff Road, where there is plenty of streamside parking. And further downstream, one can follow Long Green Creek and Sweathouse Run up from where they enter the Gunpowder find wadeable, refreshing pools to dip in.

 Aside from above and below the reservoirs, day-dippers looking to follow the trout can find excellent possibilities along the Little Gunpowder River and its tributaries. Where the trestle bridge carries Bottom Road over the river, next to the intersection of Guyton Road, is an enviable spot. And there are others to find, with streamside parking available--though fisherman, sometimes with a scowl, would rather claim many of them for their own use.

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