Copyright 2016 James Marsh
Fly Fishing The North Branch of the
Potomac River Maryland
Several years ago no one would have ever thought this
river could support trout. Acid mine drainage keep the
PH so low that it seemed nothing could survive in its
waters. Water flowing from abandoned coal mines
polluted the river. Silt from the runoff of mountain side
that had been cleared of timber, ruined the river.
Damming the river and creating Lake Jennings-
Randolph changed things. In some tributaries above the
lake and in the main channel, devices that mix lime with
the water to raise the PH, has decreased the acidic level
of the water. The river above the lake is now stocked
with rainbow and brown trout. Much of the river is a put
and take fishery but there is also a delayed harvest
section in the state forest area above the dam.
The section below the dam is the prime spot on the river
for serious anglers. The first one-third mile or so, is
reserved only for the trout. The next two-thirds mile is
catch and release only. Below that there is a picnic area
where you can keep trout, and then from Blue Hole to
the Piney Swamy Run, a tributary stream, it is catch and
release only waters. Even so, the tailwater section
receives several thousand stocked trout each year.
The river provides natural spawning for the brown and
brook trout in some areas. There is even a limited
amount of natural spawning of the rainbow trout.
Seven miles of the river above the lake is managed as a
Delayed Harvest area. The other fourteen miles is
stocked and managed on a "Put and take" basis.
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Potomac River, Maryland
Recommended Tackle & Gear
5 or 6 weight
Dry fly: 9 & 12 ft., 5 or 6X, Nymphing: 71/2
ft., 3 or 4X, Streamers 0-2X
Dry fly: 5 or 6X, Nymphing: 3 or 4X,
Best Fly Rods:
Perfect Fly Superb Five or Ultimate Six
For 5/6 fly line
Fly Floatants and Misc Items:
Floatants, KISS Strike Indicators
Tools & Accessories:
Nippers, forceps, retractors, etc.
The season is year-round and you can
catch fish any time of the year in the
Spring is probably the best time to fish the
river assuming the water flows are
acceptable. Heavy spring rains means
heavy discharges of water from the dam.
The water in the tailwater section of the
Potomac stays cool all summer long and is
a good time to fly fish.
North Branch Potomac River Fly Fishing
The best way to fish the tailwater section is to float it in
a drift boat. This provides much better access to the
prime lies of the trout than you can get from the bank
or by wading from the bank.
Freestone Stream Section Above
The upper part of the North Branch of the Potomac
River in Maryland is a freestone stream and like all
freestone streams, its water temperatures can rise
and fall with the changes in the weather. Its water
levels are subject to the fall and snow fall during the
year. About nine miles of the river flows along the
Potomac State Forest line and is stocked very heavily.
This section is located in a fairly remote section of
Maryland and is heavily forested.
For almost one-hundred years, the river was totally
void of life. The rebirth of this river is an amazing feat
and proof that with some thought, planning and work,
almost any stream can be reconditioned to support
trout. Acid runoff from mining was the cause of the
problem and is still a problem in many areas of the
This area of the United States in coal mining
country and coal mining was what destroyed
all of the life of the river at one time. Now,
things are quite different. The state installed
four limestone dosers that changed the PH
of the water enough to support trout and
aquatic insects that they rely on for food.
Now twenty-one miles of the river supports
trout. Eight miles are below the lake and
thirteen miles above the lake.
Tailwater Section below
The tailwater section of the North Branch of
the Potomac River is the best section to fly
fish and gets the most attention from
serious anglers. It is one of the few streams
in the Eastern United States that has the
cutthroat trout. In fact all four species of
trout exist in the river - the rainbow, brook,
brown and cutthroat. The locals call
catching all four species catching the Grand
Slam of Trout Fishing. The dam releases
water ranging from fifty-five to sixty degrees
As mentioned before, the best way to fish
the tailwater is from a drift boat. The water
levels can vary and there are a lot of rock
and boulder outcropping that you have to
An ideal drift boat is a rubber raft type
pontoon boat. The rocks can damage a
You can also fish the stream from the
banks but you cannot cover near as
much water as you can from a drift boat
and your chances to place your fly in
numerous ideal lies is much less. There
is not near the access that you have
when drifting the river.
The stream is difficult to wade in some
places and others it is fairly easy to
wade. You can certainly catch trout
wading, so don't let the fact that drifting
the river may be the best method to use
keep you away from the stream.
The river is lightly fished, rarely crowded
with anglers and in a very remote area
of the country. It is worth the trip to
check it out if for no other reason, just
to be able to fish for cutthroats in the
East and to have the opportunity to
catch the Grand Slam.
North Branch Potomac River
Hatches and Trout Flies:
Our information on aquatic insects is based
on our stream samples of larvae and
nymphs, not guess work. We base fly
suggestions on imitating the most plentiful
and most available insects and other foods
at the particular time you are fishing. Unlike
the generic fly shop trout flies, we have
specific imitations of all the insects in the
North Branch Potomac River and in all
stages of life that are applicable to fishing. If
you want to fish better, more realistic trout
flies, have a much higher degree of
success, give us a call. We not only will
help you with selections, you will learn why,
after trying Perfect Flies, 92% of the
thousands of our customers will use nothing
You would think this river wouldn't stand
much of a chance at having any aquatic
insects but that is far from the truth. The
populations that exist in the headwaters are
different from those found in the tailwater to
some extent but both areas have more than
you would expect from a stream once know
for its high acidic content. All in all,
however, the populations of the few species
that exist here are still rather low.
Midges are the most consistent hatches
that occur, especially in the tailwater
section. You can catch trout on imitations of
the lavae, pupae and adults most any day
of the year. Although midge fishing isn't
exactly popular with the locals, they are
very effective on this river. We recommend
a good selection of midge imitations even if
you are fishing during the summer.
A very important fly is the streamer.
Imitations of sculpin, minnows, baitfish and
small crawfish work great at times,
especially when the water is high and
slightly stained. Make certain you have a
good selection of streamers.
There are some Blue-winged Olives, both
in the headwaters and tailwater sections.
These hatch during the winter in the
tailwater section starting in February. The
hatch isn't very heavy but it can last until
June depending on the time and location.
You will also find some hatching in late
September and October.
There are a few American March Browns
in the river. They normally start hatching
around the middle of May. It is not very
reliable but you may find them as late as
July. There are also a few Sulphurs
beginning to hatch. We hope the
population continues to grow. They start in
May and last for about six weeks.
A very overlooked fly that is plentiful on
this river is the Cranefly. We have "Perfect
Fly" imitations of the larvae and adults.
They have proven to catch trout at this
location. Don't forget about terrestrials.
There are plenty of ants and beetles. You
will also find some grasshoppers in some
areas. Imitations of them work at times.
There are also plenty of inch worms, or
moth larvae, that fall of the tree limbs into
the water. Be sure to have some imitations
of them with you if you are fishing during
the summer. Terrestrial can be important
anytime from about the middle of June until
the first of October.
We hope you check out our selection of
"Perfect Fly" Midges and Streamer flies for
this river. We believe once you give any of
our flies a try, you will stick with them
anywhere you fly fish for trout.
Autumn is one of the best times to fish the
Potomac River. The brook trout and
brown trout spawn in the fall.
If you can tolerate the weather, fly fishing
the North Branch of the Potomac River
can be good.
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Fishing Report Updated 01/31/16
(Bottom Of Page)
North Branch Potomac River Fishing Report - 01/31/15
The stream levels will vary and should be checked. Right now it is a little high but be sure to
check the discharge schedule.
7 Day Weather Forecast: There is a chance of rain through Wednesday, otherwise clear
for the next week. Highs will range from 37 to 54 and lows from 22 to 40 degrees.
Recommended Trout Flies:
Midges: Blood (Red), sizes 20/22, larva, pupa and adults
Midges: Cream, size 20/22, larva, pupa and adults
Midges: Light Green, size 20/22, larva, pupa and adults
Blue-winged Olives: size 20, nymph, emergers, duns and spinners
Black Matuka and Olive Matuka Sculpin, size 4/6
Brown Sculpin and White Belly Sculpin, size 6
Winter Stoneflies: size 16/18, nymphs and adults
Black Flies, size 18/20, larva, pupa and adults
Strategies, Techniques and Tips:
Make sure you check the discharge schedule. The Brown Sculpin and White Belly
Sculpin are good flies to use for the larger trout. The Black Matuka and Olive Matuka
Sculpin streamers are good flies to use at this time of the year. Crawl them on the
bottom in the deepest water.
Various species of Blue-winged Olives will hatch during the next several weeks.
A good strategy for the tailwater is fishing a tandem Midge rig under a small strike
indicator with the midge lava as the bottom fly and the midge pupa as the top fly. Fish
the adult midge only when you observe trout feeding on the surface.
Winter Stoneflies are hatching.
Black Flies are hatching
|Options For Selecting Flies:
1. Email us (email@example.com)
with the dates you will be fishing this
stream and we will send you a list of our
fly suggestions. Please allow up to 24
hours for a response.
2. Call us 800-594-4726 and we will help
you decide which flies you need.
3. Email us (firstname.lastname@example.org)
with a budget for flies and we will select
them to match the budget and get them to
you in time for your fly fishing trip.
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