Patapsco River

Located in Carroll, Howard and Baltimore Counties

Patapsco River Fishing

Physical/ Habitat Description - The Patapsco River averages about 50 feet in width. The river is low in gradient, shallow and rocky with scattered deep pools and sandy runs. The many boulders provide pocket water that provide excellent habitat for the stocked trout and smallmouth bass. The large, slow pools are also attractive to trout, bass and sunfish.

Fish Species - Smallmouth bass, rock bass, redbreast sunfish, hog suckers and white suckers can be found throughout the river. Gizzard shad, hickory shad, American shad, river herring, striped bass and white perch migrate up the Patapsco River during early spring. Gizzard shad and river herring migrate up in the greatest numbers and can be seen swimming in the pool below Bloede Dam near the Denil fish ladder. Opening the river up to fish migration has helped the catadromous American eel. American eels can now be found throughout the Patapsco River. Biologists only found American eels below Bloede Dam prior to development of the Denil fish ladders. Stocked rainbow trout ranging from nine inches up to a few 20+ inch trophies can be found throughout the put-and-take and two-trout/day sections of the river from mid-October through early June and provide excellent fishing recreation for fly, lure and bait anglers. Occasionally, the Fisheries Service purchases and stocks brown trout from private hatcheries to provide another species of trout for angling recreation. A variety of minnow species can be found throughout the Patapsco River, which provide forage for smallmouth bass, trout and sunfishes. It would not be unusual for a fly angler fishing with a bead head nymph to catch trout, smallmouth bass, redbreast sunfish, rock bass, river chubs and spottail shiners during a day of fishing in early June. The Patapsco River, with its many angling opportunities, definitely deserves a place on your list of freshwater fishing hotspots.

Restrictions - The put-and-take sections of the Patapsco River allow for a five-trout/day creel limit with no size or bait restrictions. There are two closure periods in the spring to allow for stocking. During the two closure periods, no fishing is permitted within the designated put-and-take sections. There are no closure periods in the two-trout/day section of the river. The catch-and-return black bass section requires all bass to be immediately released to the water when caught. There are no bait restrictions, however; Fisheries recommends not using bait as higher bass mortality occurs with deep hooked fish than with artificial lures and flies. Please consult the Maryland Guide to Fishing and Crabbing  for details on all license requirements as well as trout and black bass regulations associated with the Patapsco River.

History - The Patapsco River is managed as a put-and-take trout fishery (5 trout/day) through nearly 10 miles of the Patapsco Valley State Park. The upper trout fishery is in the South Branch of the Patapsco River and was first stocked in 1990. The stocked area begins at Main Street in Sykesville (Carroll County) or West Friendship Road (Howard County) and extends downstream 6.45 miles to the confluence with the North Branch Patapsco River within the McKeldin Area of Patapsco State Park. The lower section of put-and-take trout water, located northwest of US Route 1 in Elkridge within the Avalon Area of the State Park, was first stocked in 1989. Trout are stocked from Bloede Dam downstream 3.52 miles to the B&O Viaduct. Another popular trout fishing area on the Patapsco River is a 3.6-mile stretch from Daniels Dam downstream to Union Dam in the Hollofield Area of the State Park. This section was first stocked in 1995 and has a two-trout/day creel limit. With the reduced creel limit, more trout are available to anglers for a longer period of time than in the put-and-take sections. Spring and fall stockings provide great fishing for trout from October through early June. The Daniel's section has become very popular with fly anglers. With the rivers large size, there is plenty of room for fly casting. River temperatures become too warm during the summer months to expect trout survival. The trout are stocked with the intention that all will be harvested by anglers before the Patapsco River becomes too warm for their survival.

Smallmouth bass are a popular gamefish in the Patapsco River and provide angling recreation throughout the river. In November of 1997, catch-and-return black bass regulations were enacted from Interstate 70 downstream 3.75 miles to Frederick Road (Route 144) in Ellicott City. The regulation was proposed to evaluate the response to catch-and-release angling on density and growth of smallmouth bass in this portion of the Patapsco River. Preliminary results of an on going study indicate an excellent population of smallmouth bass ranging from 26 to 77 pounds/acre. The smallmouth bass population is similar to other small rivers with most of the fish under 12 inches in total length.

Historically, the Patapsco River supported spawning runs of anadromous fish such as American and hickory shad, yellow and white perch, alewife and blueback herring. Over the past 150 years, private dams built on the Patapsco River blocked 23 miles of spawning habitat starting at Bloede Dam, 21.1 miles from the mouth of the river. During the 1990's, private funds and funds from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Natural Resources Defense Council supplemented funds appropriated by the State of Maryland. These funds were to be used to re-open historic anadromous fish spawning habitat in the Patapsco River. Denil fish ladders were built into the Bloede, Simpkins and Daniels Dams and breaching with streambank stabilization was provided at Union Dam to open the 23 miles of habitat to anadromous fishes. Biologists estimate an approximate target for restoration is 16,000 American shad and 160,000 river herring based on average river flow.​

Contact Us - Comments and questions regarding the Patapsco River can be directed to:

Maryland Department of Natural Resources
Fisheries Service
Patuxent Work Center
17400 Annapolis Rock Road , Woodbine, Maryland 21797

Patapsco Valley State Park information can be found by contacting: Patapsco Valley State Park: 410-461-5005 ​​​​