Fly Fishing the
Savage River...
in western Maryland
...with Bill Byrd.

This is the third in my series of articles on fly fishing the western Maryland area. I hope you will enjoy reading these articles and maybe visit and fish some of these little known wonderful fly fishing destinations.

I received an email from Ron Wells, a serious ultralight fly fisher, a frequent visitor to my website, and a West Virginia resident, inviting me up to fish the Savage River located near Grantsville MD with him. He successfully fishes this water and several streams in the area with tiny flies and ultralight gear.

The next month my son announced he was getting married in eastern Maryland in mid September 2006, so my wife and I decided after our son's wedding to stage an extended trip to western Maryland for sight seeing and fly fishing.

After my son's wedding in eastern Maryland, we drove southwest by Baltimore on highway 70, then split off onto highway 68 west past Frostburg to Grantsville, Maryland.

Grantsville was the perfect town in which to base our lodging for western Maryland fly fishing. From Grantsville I could reach many western Maryland streams within minutes and enjoy cozy, relaxed lodging at the Stonebow Inn. Actually it was just a short 30 minutes from the deck on our cabin to the Savage River.

Because Ron Wells had phoned me on September 18th telling me that he had become sick and couldn't fish the Savage River with me on September 20th, I scrambled to find someone in the immediate area who knew that river well. Harold Harsh my guide on the Potomac River trip on September 22nd recommended Ken Pavol to me. I phoned Ken and set up our trip to the Savage River for September 20th.

Pavol and I met across the street from my cabin and had an early breakfast. That is when I learned first hand that Ken had been a fisheries biologist for Maryland DNR in western Maryland and had retired after 32 years of service. Ken had personally helped to bring most of the waters I would fish plus many more streams and lakes in the area back from the dead -- literally.

Acid leaching from mining and abandoned mines in the region had shifted the PH of the waters to an acidic level that would not support fish life, microorganisms, nor a lot of vegetation needed in a healthy water resource. Ken Pavol even wrote many of the rules governing these bodies of water's use today. Even though retired from DNR, he continues to help protect these precious resources and works with organizations like TU in the area for further stream rehabilitation and improvement.

Ken Pavol also guides part time these days. That is how we crossed paths. Regardless of the excuse, I am grateful to meet someone who has spent so much of his life rehabilitating waters so that fly fishers like us can enjoy the challenge of fishing them and their absolute beauty.

After a very enjoyable breakfast at the local restaurant, I followed Ken to the Big Run State Park where we turned in and drove a few miles past the Savage River Reservoir dam (image left by MD DNR)which was completed in 1952. It is this dam that creates the tailrace fishery that is today's Savage River.

In 1982 Ken and other Maryland DNR personnel documented that there were naturally reproducing brook trout in the stream. Then they created a water release schedule more conducive to improving year round trout population survival and growth, and by 1987 a portion of the Savage was managed as a wild trout stream.

That step was so successful that by 1991 the entire 4 miles of tailwater were managed as a non-stocked wild trophy trout fishery. Populations of wild brook and brown trout thrive in the stream. Good populations of Rainbow trout also thrive in this beautiful stream. The Savage has become the premier wild trout stream in Maryland.

NOTE: Portions of the Savage River Tailwater lie within the Savage River State Forest providing good public access. Private property also borders the river, so anglers should seek permission to fish those areas of the river bordered by private property. The Savage River Road parallels the river, and parking areas are well marked.

The Savage is a beautiful mountain stream. Its banks are clothed with rhododendrons, maples, mountain ashes, tulip poplars, and hemlocks. On average it is about 50 feet wide with a free stone bottom, lots of cobble, and a fair amount of algal growth. Felt sole wader boots or even studded wader boots help in wading the stream.

Before you fish the Savage, check on water releases. Flows can vary depending on the release from the dam so please check the Maryland DNR website at The Maryland DNR website, or call 410-962-7687 before a fishing trip. Flows between 50 and 100 cfs are considered good fishing flows. Or access The Savage River flows at Barton, MD.

After our trek along the winding road that parallels the Savage River, Ken stopped to check water clarity and conditions. It was obvious by the cloudiness of the water that turnover in the Savage River Reservoir upstream had occurred and that usually impacts fishing negatively. The only way to find out was to get on the water.

It was time to get to the water. We drove on downstream and pulled over on a paved parking area. I decided to fish my Hexagraph 1-2 weight (the only one that exists in the world!) with an Orvis Barstock Battenkill disc reel and WF2F line.

Ken was fishing a 4-weight system with a size 16 Elk Caddis and a dropper to begin with. The idea was to fish all available water and see what we could get to rise. In the image left he was tying up his dropper rig.

I asked Ken to begin first, so he hit the stream in a beautiful run below a small pool. He began to work the run with his dropper rig in hopes that a trout would rise to the caddis or take the tiny bead head subsurface.

After several casts up by the boulder, drifted down through the run in every conceivable position, he had no strikes. So I slipped into the stream with an unconventional subsurface fly and plied the same water with the idea of shocking a trout into a strike.

After we had both probed the water sufficiently, we moved upstream to the next pockets. I saw no real hatches. We witnessed the arrival of one BWO and one fly that an Elk Caddis would imitate, but no air filling hatches this day.

Upstream from me Ken began working a current tongue and a scrappy brown found his Elk Caddis (image above left). Ken raised his rod and kept the beautiful wild brown in the pool for quick, easy release.

After a short time the fat little brown came to hand, was admired, photographed and released (image above right). We had broken the ice. After an hour and a half of probing water, we had actually hooked a fish.

And so it went for the rest of the day. We diligently probed water, changing flies to try to elicit a strike.

I tied on a size 16 H&L variant (image above left), probed a nice run (image above center) and managed to catch a fat brown (image above right). I was fortunate to catch one more brown that morning.

Given the effect of the lake turnover on the trout, combined with the lack of serious hatches -- I felt we did allright on this trip. Even though we knew that we were fishing over lots of fish, they were relatively inactive for us on that day.

Ken methodically led the way upstream and worked water several hundred feet until early afternoon when we ended up at a long run on a beautiful pool. In all Ken caught and released 4 browns on the trip.

I was happy to have seen and fished the Savage. My friend Ron Wells had told me this was a technical stream, so I knew that we would likely have to work to catch these wary trout. The trout are beautiful, the Savage is truly wild and scenic, and I finally got to wade and fish this river I've heard so much about.

As I mentioned, Ken Pavol guides part-time and knows the waters of this area better than anyone. Contact Ken Pavol at North Branch Angler by email for full information Email Ken Pavol or call him on his cell: 240-321-1495, or at home: 301-387-5314.


When in the area my wife and I stayed at the Stonebow Inn. Sadly the Stonebow has since closed its doors. It was literally located in Grantsville 100 feet from the Casselman River, and a short drive from the Savage River, the Upper Potomac, the Youghiogheny River, or the Savage River. There are state parks and many activities for everyone in the immediate area.


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