Loch Raven Dam
One of my most-read posts of all time is a 3 year old clunker about a ho-hum day fishing at Loch Raven Reservoir, one of Baltimore City's water supply reservoirs (and recognized as one of the best largemouth lakes in the Mid-Atlantic states, alongside Round Valley Reservoir in NW New Jersey). I always feel apologetic when I check my web stats and see that people are visiting that post so frequently, looking for good information about fishing the lake, and what they find is, um, significantly less than that. Well, I have come to deliver you that post. Finally. Well, part of it. Finally. (5-25-11 - here's the second part - finally).
Loch Raven Reservoir is a drowned river valley impoundment of the Gunpowder River near Maryland's Fall Line - the boundary between coastal plain and piedmont. It features an interesting variety of fish habitats, from shallow coves, to rocky cliffs, islands, and rock piles over and in deep water, to extensive grass beds, to deep water. There are three ways to get to the fish, of which two (the first two) are reasonable for most anglers:
1. Shoreline fishing
2. Renting a jonboat, kayak, etc. at the Fishing Center
3. BYO Boat
Shoreline fishing is certainly the most popular way to access Loch Raven. While a buffer of "public" lands with a solid trail system surrounds the reservoir, many spots are a 2+ mile hike away from legal parking spots. Due to pressure and trash - especially from subsistence fishermen - any shoreline spot within a quarter mile of legal parking will usually be burned out (no fish) and basically a mess of worm buckets and old fishing line tangles. It's a shame. Common access areas orbit around the major roads that cross the Reservoir (just pull up a digital map and see for yourself). Obviously, the closer to the road you are, the more pressured the fish will be. Legal point to remember - no fishing or boating between the dam and Loch Raven Drive. There's a serious network of trails as well as fire roads throughout the City watershed property, and these are absolutely key to getting to the fish on foot. Give yourself extra time to walk in and walk out!
Most of the reservoir's shoreline has overhanging limbs, and a fair amount of dead trees in the water. It's easy to think that these are good fishing spots, but many of the trees fall into large, open coves with less than 12" of water, due to extensive runoff from the deer-damaged forest. In the spring and late fall, fishing the dropoffs on both the gradual slopes and the rock cliffs can offer some exciting fishing for large bluegills and 1-3lb largemouth bass. Even in those seasons, this may require you to use a rod/reel combo that will help you reach out great distances. Please do not bring a surf rod. Or six surf rods.
During the summer, excellent casting is even more important, as the reservoir's grass beds get thicker and thicker by the week. The beds are mostly floating, and seem to ring the reservoir from the shoreline to about 30 feet out. Some beds seem totally unattached, and float to the windward shoreline on any given day. Fishing in these conditions would be epic if you didn't snag your lure in the grass during every retrieve. My experience has also been that it's extremely hard to catch big fish from shore in Loch Raven in the summer heat - we normally pack it in by 10am. I think there are three reasons for this - 1) the grass beds I mentioned above, 2) lack of access to large areas of deep water with structure, and 3) inability to cover large areas of woody, cliff-y shoreline on foot before the sun gets up over the trees.
There are numerous rocky points to fish throughout the reservoir, but the fish are very spooky in these areas. If your big shadow falls over the water, you're probably done. If you are skilled at "ambush fishing" - I am not - you can land some monster fish on these dropoffs. Depends on how far you want to belly crawl across a cliff.
Renting a Boat
Loch Raven has a City/County-run fishing center where you can rent one of several types of boats. In all cases, the gear you rent will help you putt along the reservoir (no outboards allowed, period), but don't count on covering long distances because you can't rent a boat before 6am (so 630am before you're actually on the water) and you have to be back at sunset or earlier (whenever the fishing center closes). Plus, the fishing center is in a part of the reservoir that (I've found) is just not super productive for fishing. So you need another 10 minutes to get outta there via trolling motor (or 30 minutes via paddle). Get out to the channel (location of the old river bed) and then choose a tributary/cove to putter into. If you rent a trolling motor, rent an extra battery. A solid $5 investment.
Boat fishing is a great way to adapt to changing conditions in the reservoir (ie summer breezes). You can fish the outside of the grass beds (epic), deep structure in the lake, or any of the islands in the lake. You just have to get there, which takes some time. If you are planning to fish Loch Raven in hot weather, plan on doing it by boat, and planning on using deeeeeeeeeeep running lures, because you probably won't get to a good shoreline spot before the bass move out of the shallows in the early morning. Even though the Fishing Center (seasonally) opens at 6am, it's really a challenge to be out on a more productive part of the water before the fish go deep.
Note: 2011 launch permits went on sale and sold out on April 1. No more for 2011. This part is frustrating. If you want, you can register your boat, canoe, or kayak for the City reservoirs (there are three, total). There are a slew of rules, you have to pay for the permit (I believe $100), they usually run out of annual launch permits around April 1st - which is the day they go on sale (!!!), and you have to sign an affidavit that due to the threat of zebra mussels, your boat will not be used - all year - anywhere other than the Baltimore City reservoirs. The "King Pro Staff" of Loch Raven has two giant trolling motors rigged up to his boat. It is tore up, but hey, the guy can cover some water!
Another bummer is that you can only (boat) access the reservoir from the Fishing Center. No putting in your canoe or cartop boat anywhere else - and it's a big reservoir. And of course, let's not forget that you are not allowed to ground or anchor your boat for the purpose of walking ashore and fishing. No sir.
I personally can't see a situation that would include this making sense for me. But to each, his own.