By John Mullican|
Antietam Creek in Washington County is best known for the Civil War battle that raged along its banks near the town of Sharpsburg. The Battle of Antietam took place on September 17, 1862, and marked the first invasion of the North by General Robert E. Lee. During this one-day battle, more that 23,000 soldiers were killed or wounded, and it remains the bloodiest day of battle in American history. More than nine times as many American soldiers were killed at Antietam than were killed on D-Day, the "longest day" of World War II. Today, Antietam Creek is a much more peaceful place, attracting anglers, canoeists and history buffs.
County and National Parks
The lower 14 miles of Antietam Creek offers good access, a variety of angling opportunities and aesthetic natural surroundings rich in history. Walk-in access is available for four of those miles; the remainder must be floated. Fine angling among beautiful surroundings teaming with wildlife await those choosing to float. Deer, wild turkey and fox squirrels are abundant. Skittish wood ducks frequently make their nests in cavities within the streambank sycamores. Blue herons patiently fish the shallows.
Two primary locations offer access to lower Antietam Creek; Devil's Backbone County Park and the Antietam National Battlefield Park. Devil's Backbone is named for a prominent ridge within a large meander. The park provides restrooms, picnic areas with grills, a playground, pavilions and parking. A small dam provides an impounded area allowing easy fishing access for those less mobile or for those who prefer to sit and enjoy the surroundings.
Below the dam, Antietam Creek flows over ledges and riffles interspersed with pools and runs that provide ideal habitat for a variety of game fish. An accessible fishing area for those with disabilities is available as well. Canoes and kayaks can be launched for those wanting to float downstream.
From the county park at the Route 68 bridge downstream to the mouth of Beaver Creek, the land is in private hands, and fishing is permitted by the generosity of the landowner.
Antietam National Battlefield Park provides additional access approximately eight stream miles below Devil's Backbone. The parking area at Porterstown Bridge on Route 34 is a good spot to launch. A take-out provided by C&O Canal National Park is being constructed at the mouth, six miles downstream from the Porterstown Bridge access. Paddlers should have some experience before attempting this float. There are many riffles that can become challenging under stronger flows, particularly the drop at the gauging station and the riffles at Harpers Ferry Road just above the take-out. Approximately three miles of Antietam Creek are within the park, all accessible to anglers.
Those launching at Porterstown Bridge will pass by the famous Burnside Bridge. Perched among the rocks on the hill to the right, 450 Georgia sharpshooters held off General Ambrose E. Burnside's corps of 12,000 Union soldiers attempting to cross the narrow bridge to join the battle beyond. The Confederate sharpshooters held them off until early afternoon when, running low on ammunition, they had to fall back. Bank fishing is not permitted within 500 feet of this historic bridge.
A foot trail, accessible from the Burnside Bridge parking lot, parallels the creek for approximately one mile below the bridge, offering excellent access to anglers.
Fishing: So Many Choices
A fingerling trout is about the length of a finger, 3 to 4 inches. Depending on availability, both rainbow and brown trout are stocked. Many of these fingerlings will not survive due to predation, competition and the limited amount of ideal trout habitat. Those that do, however, often reach trophy size.
Approximately one mile of Antietam Creek, from Devil's Backbone County Park downstream to the mouth of Beaver Creek, is managed as a put-and-take trout-fishing area and receives more than 5,000 adult rainbow trout annually. Hatched and reared at the nearby Albert Powell Hatchery, the rainbows average about 12 inches. Holdovers -fish held in the hatchery an extra year or two- give anglers the chance to catch larger trout, including a few brutes that may weigh four pounds or more.
There are no tackle restrictions, and you are likely to be successful whether your preference is bait, lures or flies. Live or prepared bait and artificial lures are usually more effective during the early season when flows may be up and the water cloudy.
Abundant evening hatches of caddis and mayflies attract fly fishermen in April, May and June. During these hatches the trout can be pretty picky and the wrong fly will go untouched. The creel limit in the put-and-take area is five trout per day; the limit is two trout per day in the rest of Antietam Creek.
Smallmouth bass are always angler favorites. As with any small-stream population, the average size is about 10 inches. However, Antietam Creek is a fertile stream with an abundance of food, allowing many of these spunky fish to reach 15 inches or more.
What smallmouth bass may lack in size, they make up for in fighting tenacity, and variety of small lures or flies can be used to catch them. Crankbaits (particularly those resembling a small crayfish), spinners, and jigs are all effective. However, none may be more exciting than topwater lures. Poppers, whether used on spinning or fly tackle, almost always elicit an aggressive strike when plopped in a fishy-looking spot.
Though generally held in low regard, the common carp is a wary and powerful game fish. Carp can usually be found in the larger, slower pools, where they hover like giant submarines near logs and brush. Approaching without spooking them is tricky. Corn and various prepared doughball concoctions will hook them.
Anglers wishing to be more "refined" may want to fly-fish. Carp feed on invertebrates and will take any buggy-like nymph or, better yet, a small brightly colored egg fly.
It is nearly impossible to catch one on fly tackle without sight-fishing to see them take the bait. A carp actively feeding will have its head down, rooting on the bottom and leaving a trail of silt behind it. Present your fly or bait just ahead of a carp on the bottom. When it takes the bait, set the hook and hang on! The average carp will run you into the backing as fast as any bonefish but not before weaving through all those logs! Although a lot of fun, very few carp are actually landed this way.
Whether your pursuit is fishing or just enjoying the scenery while keeping cool in an inner tube, lower Antietam Creek is a relaxing place to spend the day.