AI generated image of wooded river with mountains in the background

Ultimate Guide to Winter Fly Fishing in Maryland: Exploring the Savage and Gunpowder Rivers

When exploring winter East Coast fly fishing opportunities, you must experience the tranquility and challenge of winter fly fishing in Maryland’s Savage and Gunpowder rivers, renowned for their unique trout fishing experiences. As quiet settles upon these waters, we delve into the specifics that make these rivers prime winter fly fishing destinations and how to fish them responsibly. Follow me through social media at the links on the bottom of this page – I’d love to hear more about your stories and would happily answer any questions.


Fly fishing enthusiasts who brave the chilly winds and frosty landscapes of Maryland in winter are rewarded with serene beauty and the chance to catch some of the most coveted trout in the United States. Maryland’s renowned Savage and Gunpowder rivers offer a winter fly fishing experience unlike any other season. 

Detailed Insights into Maryland's Prime Winter Fishing Rivers

The Gunpowder River and The Savage River are Maryland’s jewels in the crown for fly fishing, especially during winter. Each of these rivers has its unique characteristics and challenges.

Exploring the Gunpowder River: A Tailwater Haven

The Gunpowder River in Maryland is a 53-mile-long river formed by the joining of Big Gunpowder Falls and Little Gunpowder Falls. It flows through Gunpowder Falls State Park, offering activities like fishing, hiking, and birding. The river is a key source of drinking water for Baltimore City and is a nationally recognized trout fishery. It also plays an important role as a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay and provides habitats for diverse species. 


The Gunpowder boasts a tailwater ecosystem, benefiting from the consistent outflow of cold waters from Prettyboy and Loch Raven Reservoirs. This uniform temperature regulation is perfect for sustaining a vibrant population of wild brown trout and makes the river a premier winter fishing spot. With a mix of riffles, pools, and runs lined with lush forests, the Gunpowder promises dynamic fishing terrain for anglers. 


During the summer, it’s helpful to start closer to the Pretty Boy Dam; as you get farther down-river you’ll need to dodge all the good people floating on inflatable rafts and pounding beer. We also share the river with kayakers and I remember one couple who told me about some fish that were farther upstream — they were right and I appreciate you, kayakers!

The Savage River Adventure: Wild Trout Fishing

The Savage River, located in Garrett County, Maryland, is a beautiful fly fishing paradise. It flows for 29.5 miles below the Savage River Dam and through the Savage River State Forest. Although it is one of the most stunning fishing spots, it is also one of the most physically challenging. The cobble and boulders are slippery and covered with moss, so waders, a wading stick, and cleats for wading boots are essential. I always bring extra clothes because I fall in every time! 


The Savage River is a popular hotspot for winter anglers, offering solitude and a chance to catch native brook trout, which happens to be Maryland’s state fish. As it is a freestone river, winter conditions can be more unpredictable, with ice forming more easily in slower sections. Nevertheless, the Savage River is well-known for its wild brook and brown trout, making it an unforgettable fly fishing destination. 

The river is surrounded by forest, and depending on where you choose to enter the river, it is advisable to bring some patching kits for your waders. There are plenty of parking spots along the stretch, but be aware that the trails down to the water can be worn, so be careful. Lastly, remember to avoid the headache I had the first time I fished the Savage – find a trail down to the water.

Understanding Optimal Water Temperatures for Trout

Water temperature is a crucial factor to consider when it comes to winter fly fishing. It deeply influences the activity and feeding patterns of trout. The optimal water temperature range for trout to remain active is between 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit (4 to 10 degrees Celsius). When temperatures drop below this range, trout become lethargic and feed less frequently to conserve energy. They also tend to retreat to deeper pools where the water temperature remains more consistent. 


However, if the water temperature is too low, trout may not feed at all. Catching and releasing fish in such cases can be harmful. The energy expended by the trout to fight the line could significantly diminish its energy reserves necessary for survival in cold conditions. On the other hand, if the water temperature rises much above the optimal range, especially abruptly due to power plant discharges or unseasonal weather, trout can experience stress, which lowers their immunity and can lead to increased mortality rates. 


According to Joseph Chadwick and Stephen McCormick in their article in The Journal of Experimental Biology, “… results indicate a decline in growth rate as temperature increases above 16°C in brook trout and that the upper limit for their positive growth is 23.5°C. These results are in line with an extensive literature suggesting optimal growth of brook trout between 13°C and 16°C.” Therefore, it is essential to maintain the optimal water temperature range to ensure trout’s well-being and growth during winter fly fishing.

Techniques and Tactics for Winter Fly Fishing Success

To increase the likelihood of a successful winter fishing outing in Maryland, it’s important to adjust your techniques in response to the slower pace of fish activity during this time. A study has found that when temperatures are high enough to induce a cortisol response, feeding in fish decreases. This supports previous research demonstrating a negative correlation between cortisol and appetite and feeding rates in fish. To optimize your chances of success, consider the following tips for fly fishing in Maryland during winter: 


– Focus on nymphing techniques using small midge and mayfly patterns, which best mimic the natural diet of trout in winter. 

– If you’re looking to catch larger brown trout in the Savage River, try using streamers. Remember to fish them slowly and deeply to effectively entice the fish. If you’re standing on the edge of PhD pool, just keep fishing! The fish population in that pool are the Bobby Fishers of bug and fly identification.

– Timing is crucial. Plan your fishing trip during the warmest part of the day, when trout are more likely to be active and feeding.

Conservation and the Ethical Angler

Conservation of these precious ecosystems and their inhabitants is paramount. When fly fishing in winter, it is critical to handle fish with care. Using barbless hooks, keeping the fish in the water during release, and avoiding fishing during extreme cold snaps can all help protect the trout population. Follow guidelines established by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and consider participating in conservation efforts with organizations like Trout Unlimited.

Winter fly fishing in Maryland’s Savage and Gunpowder rivers is a peaceful and meditative experience. Appropriate preparation and respect for nature and its creatures can make fly fishing during the colder months a fulfilling way to enjoy the great outdoors.

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