Written by: Jim Lampros, fishing manager, Orvis Cleveland
It’s hard to say whether the complete absence of light or its presence in unexpected places is more haunting. Driving rural Appalachian highways in the dead of night, you’ll see plenty of both, and as I white-knuckled my way around this turn and that bend headed for the Savage River and its wild brook and brown trout, I thought to myself, “This had better be worth it. . . . ”
I awoke anxiously at sunrise the next morning. I’d arrived just shy of midnight and still hadn’t laid eyes on my final destination. It only took one look out my bedroom window and my “perilous” journey had been validated: a sliver of sunlight cut through the hardwood canopy, bisecting a gorgeous pool into light and dark. Immediately upstream, car-sized boulders formed idyllic pocket water that begged for a dry fly. Indeed, this water screamed trout, and I was in my waders before the coffee was done brewing.
The Savage River of the Maryland panhandle lies at the heart of an often-overlooked trout paradise, a region that encompasses the likes of the Youghiogheny, North Branch of the Potomac, and Casselman rivers, along with dozens of exceptional native brook-trout streams. On the first day of my visit, I had the good fortune of exploring one of these brook trout streams with PJ Daly, head guide for Wisp Outdoors, the 2007 Orvis guide service of the year.
We took some strikingly beautiful specimens on dry flies, and I could easily have spent the entire day jumping from pool to pool, but we decided instead to cut our exploration short and see what the Lower Savage held in store.
The Lower Savage, a tailwater that fishes more like a high-altitude freestone stream, is truly a gem. While not terribly picky about fly selection, its wild trout acknowledge only the cleanest of drifts, which can be extremely difficult to achieve in the high-gradient pocket water. After talking to PJ prior to the trip, I added a 10-foot 4-weight Access to the rod quiver. In retrospect I wouldn’t want to fish that river without such a long rod. It was a great asset for high-stick dry fly presentations and performed better than expected when casting small dry flies on long leaders to actively rising fish.
While in the panhandle we enjoyed riverside accommodations at Savage River Outfitters, which has a small fly shop on the property that carries a selection of Orvis products.