I got a jump on the rest of the crew and made my way to the Savage River early on the first day. They were all coming that night and since I love to fish alone in the wilderness I could not resist. What shocked me the most was how beautiful the river and the area was; So green and so many trees. This was one of those places in America where animals thrived.
As I was to learn later it is also a very technical river where trees punish a bad cast and bad drifts don’t fool anyone – Absolutely perfect.
Savage River Outfitters is in Swanton Maryland in the Northwestern part of the state. It has an Orvis Fly Shop and 3 rentable cabins. And there really isn’t anything close. The houses my buddy Tom rented from them were perfect and inexpensive.
Mike, the owner of Savage River outfitters, is retired and looks 20 years younger than he is. He greeted me within minutes of stepping out of the car. He gave me some guidance and I was on the river by 2:30pm. I did not step out of the river until 8:50PM because that was when the gang was due to show up. I wouldn’t have called it slow that day. But, it kinda’ was. I did miss a bunch of fish. I think I was only 2 for 12. Two landed and ten missed. I was to learn later it was a slow stretch of days on the river.
Mike had a buddy fishing up stream, so to be respectful to him I fished downstream for a mile or two and had the time of my life. I walked the road back to the houses and ended the day waiting for the guys fishing the big pool right in front of the place. That pool held a ton of big fish, had all types of fluctuating currents which made it very difficult to drift. And it would end up never producing for me even though I fished it 5 separate times. My nickname for it was “Refusal Pool” because that is what happened to me….numerous times. Why is it that we remember the refusals more than the fish we land?
Well the next day is when we had all three guides for us 6 guys. I paired myself with Loren because he was a total beginner and we got Mike as our guide. Charlie and PJ were the other two guides. Great guys and genuinely great guys. I did the parings and told mike to spend 95% of his time with Loren. That plan worked perfectly. Loren essentially got a guide to himself and “was hooked”. I can’t wait to fish with him again. It was a great day but really slow. The great news was that Loren actually caught and landed a fish on a dry. I was shocked by that. Mike took us to numerous places on the river and we even got a hike in in the upper section by the dam. When I do get back I have all the intel I need to fish that river successfully.
The gang ended the fishing day around 5 or 6, but I kept fishing, of course. I hooked and missed a big fish on my huck-hopper in the giant pool of still water foam up river. Ugg… I rested the pool a bit and tied on a huge dropper of 5 feet. Success. Big brookie of 14”. Long battle. I thought I nailed that big fish at first because these wild fish pulled so hard. That is the great thing about wild fish. I walked the road home, and then I fished the hell out of refusal pool. I targeted a 24” brown sitting 6 inches under on the wall. I made numerous perfect drifts over that fish’s head and got 2-3 refusals. I became obsessed with that pool. It still haunts me. I bet 100+ fish are in there and I didn’t hook a single one. I even stooped to a streamer on a sinking line….which always works. just not there. I even threw a cicada at 11pm in total darkness…nothing.
On the last day I was the only one that fished. We had a big night of drinking and eating and Mike and Charlie joined us. I only got 1.5 hours of fishing time because we had to pack and be out of the houses for the next guests by 12pm. And the lord rewarded me. I started in the big pool and had the fish of a lifetime rise from nowhere in the riffle that entered the pool only to refuse me. That one I will remember for a long time. So I pressed up river intending to end it in the big pool where I missed that big one the day before. On the way I saw a fish rise. I was under two trees and it was a spot too deep to wade so I was on the side of the river out of the water. I said to myself, “you are only going to get one shot and this is one of the most difficult 40 foot, side armed reach casts you will ever make.” Thank you lord. My size 18 x-caddis dropped silently and landed sofly just 5 feet above the fish. As it passed over where I thought the rise was the fish struck hard. I set sideways down stream and the battle was on. my first thought was “big fish” because he pulled hard on a run. But, when I turned on him (5x) he jumped 3 feet in the air. I said to myself, “not so big a fish….12” brown.” Then he jumped again and I let out a “woo!” to no one. after the 3rd jump I was already thanking the lord and my fly fishing buddy ken Bendix, who passed away 3 years ago from cancer. I just had this feeling that ken decided I earned a good fight on a very technical river. As I walked the road home I was elated and sad at the same time. I wanted another full day on that river so badly. I was just starting to figure it out.
The Savage is one of those rivers where you don’t even consider using an indicator. It’s just not right. The river holds mostly browns and brookies (which is all that I caught), but there are rainbows and an occasional cutthroat. It’s a wild river with prolific hatches of many types of insects. It’s a river where you hunt fish instead of throwing blind. If it gets slow, like it was for us, you drop a nymph under your dry. It is a river where roll casts spook the fish. You typically get one shot with a sidearm reach cast under the trees and if you miss, you lose. It’s also a very slippery river and Maryland is one of the few stupid states that has a no felt wading boot law. It is very hard to be stealth when you’re slipping and constantly tripping.
I quickly learned that this river was the golf equivalent to cypress from the tips. And I loved every minute of that. The savage thrives with fish to 30” and I never hooked anything over 14”. I have never fished a river where I had so many refusals. I had refusals from huge fish that will haunt me for years.