For three decades, the Iron Maiden and Potomac Mistress have been floating eight miles down the Potomac River from Dam No. 3 above Harpers Ferry, West Virginia to Brunswick, Maryland. Unlike a typical guided bass-boat fishing trip, the stretch of river we run varies from Class III whitewater to deep pools and is loaded with ledges and islands. In many places the river is over a quarter mile across. This is prime smallmouth bass water.
We launch slightly north of Dam 3. From the put-in to the dam the river is slow-moving, flat, and deep. Largemouth bass and walleye often lurk in the calmer water. Below the dam lies the Upper Needles, a long section of small rapids, riffles, and grass. Fish like to hide in the stillwater behind rocks in this area, grabbing food (and lures!) floating down in the current. Downstream from the rapids is the Catfish Hole, a deep section of the river where the locals like to fish for our whiskered friend. Lefty's Hole harbors good-sized smallmouth, especially in the spring. Butch minnows and other meal-sized streamers produce the best results. The river continues into the Lower Needles, a second stretch of rapids providing more opportunities for structure fishing.
Below the Needles lies an area of flatwater as the river flows under two railroad bridges and passes Harpers Ferry at the confluence with the Shenandoah. Take time to look up at Maryland Heights as it towers over Harpers Ferry. In October 1859, John Brown crossed the river and raided the federal arsenal in the city. For the next six years, the confluence witnessed the bloody Civil War. Fortunately, the river is more peaceful now and the confluence offers a chance to tag a fish of great character. Over 9,000 square miles of drainage carries foods through the well-established lies in this famous gap through the Blue Ridge. Below the confluence, the river passes through two sets of rapids which provide the kicks on the trip. Mad Dog's bark is worse than its bite, but when you get to Whitehorse it's time to put the fishing rods down and hold on to your seat through this Class III whitewater area. When George Washington first came upon Whitehorse, he feared it was enough to halt commerce to the West. She may be called Whitehorse, but if you're not careful, she can kick like a rented mule.
Most other river enthusiasts exit at Potomac Wayside just above the U.S. 340 bridge, leaving MKFS rafts to run the second half of the trip undisturbed. We usually stop for lunch below the bridge. The river is shallow, wide, and slow for about two miles downstream from the bridge, with a few riffles coming from a ledge or two. At the foot of Short Hill and South Mountains lie the Weverton, Old Mill, and Knoxville Falls rapids. About the only thing to accompany us through this stretch is a pair of nesting bald eagles that swoop down for a quick meal.
Dropping through Knoxville Falls, the river passes a few small islands before opening up and becoming lake-like. The "Brunswick Lake" portion of the river is dotted with a grouping of ledges and very small islands about half way to the Maryland Route 17 boat ramp. The casting targets in this area are more subtle, but the fishing can hold up well. This is an excellent time to pick the fly rod back up as any wind usually dissipates late in the afternoon making hair poppers particularly effective.
Offers fly fishing