It is apparent that this place experiences high flows, and it looked like that happened recently based on the washed clean exposed gravel bar and sharp snow line where the water wasn’t. The far bank was steeply cut and actively eroding. Ice covered most of the river and the moving water kept a channel open. I crept our over the ice fully expecting it to snap, but it didn’t. I sat on the edge over foot deep water, fitted my mask and slid in. I was hoping for some fish today but didn’t expect it – it’s the middle of winter, the water is at 32, and the habitat here is pretty homogenous. The bottom was a desert of shallow sand flats with current shaped dunes. Even though this kind of bottom doesn’t support a diverse fish community, it is still pretty amazing to swim over the scalloped surface and I figure there will be multiple tessellated darters heading for deeper water when I snorkel here in summer. A few deeper clay bottomed pools form on the outside bend and are the underwater continuations of steeply cut banks. Piles of clay chunks provide hiding places for fish in summer and this should be great habitat for shiners and sunfish, but today the only thing present are longhorned case maker caddis and what appear to be some kind of caddis that turned the hard clay into a honeycomb with their burrows.
Ice clinks as it moves downstream and sounds like a muted wind chime. Water laps at the underside of the ice sheet. There is a gap in the ice just wide enough for my head so I shove my shoulders under the ice sheet, keep my head at the surface and move upstream to a pool with a few bedrock boulders on the bottom. A northern case maker caddis and mayfly graze together on one of the rocks and their presence indicates decent water quality.
I didn’t see much in the way of fish today, but then I really didn’t expect to. Fish aren’t very active this time of year, and the Middle Patuxent is impacted. It experiences heavy flows due to suburbanization which changes the bottom from an assortment of habitats to a sand and gravel dominated flat. But the Patuxent is far from a lost cause or wasted stream. There is an ecosystem here that still intrigues and this spot has potential to hold a variety of fish in warmer weather. I wonder if I will witness migrating shad in the spring. There is huge restoration opportunity here. The question is whether we will let the Middle Patuxent live up to its potential.