Paradise Found

By Shawn Swearingen

Early in our marriage, before kids, I ventured to a Potomac River tributary to hone my fledgling fly fishing skills while my wife trained for marathons on the Mt. Vernon Trail. Though far removed from the cold trout waters I frequented with conventional gear in Oregon, the warm tidal river was an ideal out of the way place to practice casting, presenting the fly and setting to hook to the awaiting bream, bass and even tilapia. 

Knowing I was falling into the rabbit hole of fly fishing, and enjoying it, my friend introduced me to an old bachelor fishbum friend of his, telling me I needed to fish a specific tailwater not far away, and that I should, “Give Steve a call and he’ll point you in the right direction.” A few short years later, with a mentor-mentee relationship developing, Steve the old fishbum was showing me passed over backwaters of suburban Maryland that held a lot of wild fish. 

Unknowingly, runners and cyclists passed by a world class spring creek. Sworn to a blood-oath of secrecy, I joined Steve armed with a small box of flies, extra leaders and tippet, and 4 wt rods where a former railroad line was converted to a bike and running trail, traversing a shallow valley. Bewildered looks from passing pedestrians in the parking lot were common as we strung our fly rods. Steve was always paranoid of anyone watching where we stepped off the trail, so we were careful to make sure any joggers had rounded the bend before we stepped off the gravel path parallelling the winding ribbon of creek and set off looking for fish.  

The gurgling haven is fed by springs interspersed throughout its course. At places it is flanked by gentle hillsides covered in hardwood forests, in other places the creek passes by the pastoral homes of long-established Maryland horse farms, meandering its way to Baltimore’s nearby reservoir. 

It was only early summer, too early to be casting small wayward grasshoppers, but it was certainly warm enough for ants and beetles. Drifting and stripping streamers through the deeper pockets was always in the mix, despite being considered a ‘dark art’ to many fly fishing purists. 

While we leap-frogged around bends and logjams, Steve offered a forecast on terrain ahead and stories of his past trips to the stream; a ‘football’ sized brown trout stalking the cut bank; a shallow riffle with overhanging branches that held smaller but eager trout. A distant tractor drove through neighboring pastures and provided a steady metronome for the required short casts. The passing breeze was gentle enough on my back to cool, yet soft enough not to cause wind knots in 5x tippet. 

The hidden paradise provided opportunities to sharpen technical skills and practice reading waters, while the hungry smallmouth bass and brown trout rewarded the efforts. The spring creek was a home for both species of fish. At times rogue ‘stocker’ rainbows made their way into the mix from the reservoir downstream. 

The cool outflows of the springs bubbled against my legs while wading past; a welcome relief as the air grew warmer during the day. The springs kept the creek temperatures moderate even during the hottest of summer days and ice free during the coldest stretches of winter. 

Moving through the afternoon, we popped back on to the gravel trail to make our way to another stretch from time to time; the creek making curving and weaving routes toward the trail and away. Our sneakers squeaked water out of the soles with each step we took out of the stream. The occasional pedestrian only passed on the periphery of our minds as we looked towards the next bend.  

We turned around and ended the day with creek-temperature beers, waiting where we had left them, under a rock near when we first left the trail. A can of pilsner quenched my thirst before the last of the walk to the trucks. Sitting on the bank we watched a few rises downstream and toasted to having won a few tussles, while only losing a few flies to the hands of interfering limbs. I was thankful for a mentor and the pockets of wilderness that remain, waiting to be discovered.

About the Author

Born and raised throughout the forests and farms of Oregon. The 9-5 work life led Shawn to the D.C. area in 2008, a few short years after college at Oregon State. Writing about the outdoors is one of the ways he is able to cope with living in the suburbs of Northern Virginia. Shawn is also into call making, wing shooting, gardening, fishing, and introducing his two young sons with his wife to the great outdoors in hopes to do as well as his parents were able. You can find Shawn on Instagram @shawn_swearingen.