Admit it. It’s funny to hear east coasters talk about “wilderness.” I live along the I-95 corridor, and while we have some amazing fishing and hunting, and some fairly wild places, wilderness it ain’t. The Mid-Atlantic, in particular, is a region where getting to wilderness is better defined by the number of small-ish states you travel through, and the total bill for highway tolls, rather than the number of hundreds of miles that composed the trip. So, we flip a coin – go to the local spot that everyone knows about, or plan a big trip to get far, far away. But that’s a false choice. There are many, many places whether others have gone but since forgotten. Hiding in plain sight. Those are my kinds of places.
I recently had a few hours to get out and revisit one of my favorite forgotten spots where Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania all come together. It’s less than 30 minutes off of I-95, and ample public parking is available. Heads up – it’s foggy almost every day.
Luckily, the water line is less than a half mile from the parking area, so you probably won’t get lost. Now, it’s a little steep – about a 40% grade. And the trail – wait – there is no trail. Along with your fishing tackle, you may want to bring a few extras, like reflective tree tacks, eye protection, a small limb saw, a sharpened pair of pruners, 50’ of climbing rope, and the gnarliest tick and chigger repellent that money can buy. Since you’ll be back- and belly-crawling up and down steep cover all day in your chest waders (which you’ll swamp when you slip into chest-deep mud – hence – climbing rope), you’ll want to pre-hydrate in a really significant way. Allow some pack space for additional electrolytes; I personally recommend Gatorade or an orange. Oh, and despite the fact that this place is just 50 miles from Baltimore and 40 miles from Philadelphia, there’s no cell service.
But despite ticks, loose rocks, zero visibility, and an army of hungry spiders, the water is there. And despite the bleeding and cussing that goes into my Dukes-of-Hazzard style ass-bouncing scramble down to the water’s edge, I am always content and excited to see it.
This muddy point is downhill of a 300’ thick band of mountain laurel and a 20’ thick band of invasive Phragmites, over 12’ tall this time of year, and full of chiggers, spiders, and an awful plant fungus that leaves powdery black dust in your nose, and in the tiny grass cuts up and down your arm. The Phragmites ends abruptly at the casting zone, where the water depth goes from 18” to roughly 96” – a true vertical dropoff.
Those of you who read River Mud know that I have a 3 year old son (Hank), who dominates my schedule, and starting this year, my fishing time. It’s great. But it’s not relaxing, and it’s not focused. And I love to be outdoors, and singularly focused. My wife gave me a carte blanche pass to be gone until “whenever” – a rarity for either of us. I wanted to fish – seriously fish. I came here to get it done. And I did.
And then I didn’t stop
Nope. Not yet.
It was a surreal morning. More bass (9) than I’ve caught at one time since my son Hank was born. The forest would have been silent but for the constant bombardment of the mountain laurels by ripe persimmons and rock oak acorns. The breathless silence on the water was only broken by the occasional “pop” of a surface strike by panfish. No eagles on the wing. No deer in the forest. Quiet. And no deadlines to get back out of “The Hole.”
I fished until I didn’t want to fish anymore. Reflect on that statement for a moment. How rare is that? Don’t answer that. For most people I know, it’s pretty rare. Not quite to the level of “until I was sick of catching fish,” but still, a rare, good feeling. As I cut my last lure off of my line, I looked up, right in front of me, at the impossible tangle of mountain laurels. I slipped on my first step uphill, and the hill broke loose, sending me belly-deep back into the swamp. Five minutes later, it was time for a second try.
I’m fortunate to be back in shape this year – if I were my old self (only older), I think The Hole would be a hazardous place from which to extract myself. This year, I kept slowly trucking up the slope, reminding myself, “It’s OK to be tired. It’s OK to be winded. Don’t stop. Keep it steady.” Would have been more motivational coming from a supermodel, or Shaun T. from Insanity Workout!, but all I’ve got is me.
Soon enough, I was back to the truck, covered in spiders and sweat-soaked waders, and looking at the scratch in my sunglass lens that should have been a scratch in my cornea. I didn’t see another soul all morning. No one coming or going. This place is not mine – I’ve heard of people who have fished here. But as I ask them to go back, the answer is always, “I don’t need to run down into that hole just to catch a fish.”
Well, I do. Soon enough, I’ll be back down in the Hole again.
Author - Kirk Mantay has managed the outdoor blog River Mud for five years. An avid outdoorsman who began fishing at 6, surfing at 13, and duck hunting at 17, Kirk works as a habitat restoration manager for a small nonprofit organization in Annapolis, Maryland. He currently spends most of his free time teaching his son Hank about the outdoors, and his perfect day would involve small wave surfing, big flounder fishing, and more than a few beachside margaritas with his wife, Amy.