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About the Basin: Rocky Gap State Park

Rocky Gap State Park

Flintstone, MD

Rocky Gap State Park is situated in the cool mountains of Allegany County in western Maryland. It is most well-known for the Rocky Gap Casino and Resort, a privately owned and operated venue that is popular for events and conferences. However, Lake Habeeb is the real jewel of the park. Known as the “bluest water in Maryland,” the 243-acre lake is popular among anglers, kayakers, and hikers.

The five-mile trail around Lake Habeeb is the highlight of the hiking scene at Rocky Gap. The moderate trail follows the perimeter of the lake while winding through forests and over foot bridges. For a more challenging hike, take the 5-mile roundtrip on Evitt’s Homesite Trail which climbs up Evitt’s Mountain. The one-quarter mile Touch of Nature Trail is perfect for a short easy stroll to an accessible fishing pier. Visit the Lemel Bucy Family Cemetery by taking a short stroll from the Touch of Nature parking lot. Here you’ll find a bit of the land’s history with several gravestones from the Civil War era.

The day-use area provides several options for large get togethers and family day trips to the beach. There are picnic tables, playgrounds, and grills, as well as Hawk’s Nest Café and a ranger station. Canoes, kayaks, and standup paddleboards are available for rent during the season. The park can reach capacity on weekends and holidays, so check their Twitter account before heading out. Don’t forget to bring Fido in on the fun. Pets are permitted in the day-use area and in many of the camping areas.

The nature center provides a variety of activities. Especially noteworthy activities encourage anyone to experience the outdoors—regardless of their background or economic status—by borrowing equipment like boats (during Free Paddle events) and fishing equipment. The “tackle loaner” program lets any kid try their hand at fishing by borrowing all the necessary equipment free-of-charge from the nature center. Other ranger-led activities include birding, yoga, trivia nights, an owl-pellet breakdown, and night sounds. An aviary is available to explore by appointment or during limited open hours. The Friends of Rocky Gap State Park Facebook page lists many of the park’s activities.

Fishing is a 24/7 activity at the park. Anglers at Lake Habeeb go after panfish, trout, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, channel catfish, pumpkinseed, and more. Artificial habitats have been added to the lake to improve fish habitat.

The campground boasts 278 campsites with a variety of options like tent-camping, RVs, mini-cabins and yurts. If you’re planning a family trip with family or friends who are less-than-excited about camping, check out the Easter Hill Chalet—the fully furnished house accommodates 8 people and provides a large deck, gas fireplaces, and an outdoor campfire area.

The area of Rocky Gap State Park is the ancestral home of the Shawandasse Tula and Massawomeck Peoples.

People play on a sandy beach along Lake Habeeb at Rocky Gap State Park.

Photo Credit: Beach at Rocky Gap State Park (MD) July 2016, Ron Cogswell (Flickr)

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ICPRB Fishing Report – July 29, 2022

Some Fisheries News…

Striped Bass Closure

The striped bass fishery on the tidal Potomac mainstem is closed until August 21. All Maryland areas of the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries, including on the Potomac, will be closed to any targeting of striped bass – including catch-and-release and charter boats–through July 31. This conservation measure was enacted because hot weather and low oxygen this time of year creates tough conditions for striped bass to survive catch and release – and this high mortality impacts the future of our fishery.


Anglers looking for a little elbow room in busy parts of the river may benefit from knowing when and where organized tournaments occur. Maryland DNR has you covered with its tournament fishing page, which includes information and a listing of sanctioned tournaments. It can also be helpful in knowing where increased fishing pressure has occurred.

Maryland is considering some changes to fishing regulations. Public comment is invited.


The Shenandoah system has decent water levels nd the clear waters are producing small- and largemouth bass, sunfish, and carp. Channel catfish are found in deeper holes on the bottom. The South Fork is fishing very well, with water temperature at bout 74 degrees. The weekend’s overcast skies will help produce fish, and lower water temperatures will help keep them active. Early morning and dusk are the best times. Trout streams are running clear and productive.

Anglers on the South Branch Potomac continue to find some nice fish in the deeper holes, although the fishing will get tougher as water levels continue to fall.

The North Branch Potomac and Savage rivers are fishing well, and the break in temperature should help keep these cold-water fisheries active. The ICPRB staff are continuing to cooperatively monitor fish and conditions in the North Branch to inform efforts to improve the productivity of these important fisheries. While river levels may fall, the cooler weather should keep water temperatures steady.

The upper Potomac River continue to please anglers with nice catches of smallmouth and largemouth bass, sunfish, and channel and flathead catfish. Fishing is productive through much of the upper Potomac. Smallmouth bass are dispersed throughout the system. Dawn and dusk are the best times to fish the warm, 82-degree waters. Bass are being taken with small plastic tubes and stick worms fished very slowly. The best targets are boulders and rock gardens in the middle of the river. Eddy lines and shaded deeper spots are holding fish. Flathead and channel catfish are taken from the bottom of deeper holes with live or cut bait. Taking a 15-20 pound flathead from the upper river is an exciting experience.

Whites Ferry, Lander, and Point of Rocks provide good access, although navigation by boat can be difficult in stretches due to low river levels. Wading, canoeing, and kayaking provide more territory to anglers.

Metro area anglers continue to catch some fish in this summertime pattern without much change from last week. The Key Bridge area remains productive for largemouth and smallmouth bass. Bridge pilings, wood structure, and riprap are the best targets. Soft plastics and crankbaits dropped at bridge pilings score some bass. The Washington channel’s grass and channel drop-off always is a good bet. Docks and structure on both sides of the river are holding bass. The mouth of the Anacostia are holding some bass and snakeheads.

The tidal Potomac is in summer mode, with fair visibility and water temperatures of about 85 degrees. Anglers are finding bass at National Harbor and the Spoils nearby. Blue catfish are taking cut or live bait from the bottom of deeper holes, along with some channel catfish. Large blue cats are found in the channel off Fort Washington. Mattawoman Creek’s Lilly pads and spatterdock will hold bass and some snakeheads. Pohick Bay embayments are fishing well for bass in the beds of aquatic grass, and snakeheads can be targeted at the grasses growing at the heads of tidal creeks. Kayakers can cover a lot of areas unavailable to larger craft. Chicamuxen and Aquia creeks are fishing well. Dawn and dusk are good times to fish, and moving water is greatly preferred. Anglers are targeting wood and other structure with soft plastics fished very slowly, and concentration will reward anglers in feeling the light bite. Grass beds are hard hit by anglers, but are very productive. Fish the edges with crankbaits and soft plastics in lower water. Drag hollow frogs over the top of beds in high water. Buzzbaits and chatterbaits can bring strikes along grass edges.

Fishing activity around the Colonial Beach continues to be slow. The closed striped bass season has  anglers fishing for white perch spot, and a few croaker. A growing number of sea nettles are showing up, and there have been no recent reports of dolphins. Crabbing is improving.

Near the river’s mouth, anglers continue to find a few cobia around Smith Point. Anglers continue to catch white perch, and spot. Some anglers are chumming for bluefish.. Some Spanish mackerel are being taken. Blue catfish are always biting live or cut bait. Crabbing is getting better.

Be careful on the water this weekend. Be mindful of the hazards of abundant sun and high temperatures on both you and your quarry. Handle all fish to be returned quickly and with care.

We are grateful to the many river watchers who contribute to this effort. Particular thanks go to the state departments of natural resources, National Bass Guides, Shallow Water Fishing Adventures, and  Machodoc Creek Marina, Inc.

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A Watershed Moment for Swimming in the District’s Waters

On June 8, 2022, the U.S. House passed HR 7776 that would authorize the federal government to conduct a feasibility study for recreational access, including “enclosed swimming areas,” in the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers.

An historical look at swimming in the Potomac River

Human contact with the Potomac River predates recorded history and has been continuous through the present day throughout the basin with the exception of the waters of the District of Columbia.

Photo Credit: Muriel Quackenbush in surf chair at Wash. Bathing Beach.1922 (LOC)

The river in the District has long suffered the strain of a concentrated population and the subsequent pollution it creates.

But the Potomac River has shown its resilience and times are changing. The U.S. House recently passed a bill that authorizes a feasibility study of enclosed swimming areas in the District’s rivers. The D.C. Department of Energy and the Environment is looking at updating regulations, water quality standards, and monitoring practices. D.C. Water’s massive infrastructure rebuild, the Clean Rivers Project, is expected to reduce combined sewage overflow by 96%. Organizations like Potomac Riverkeeper Network and Anacostia Riverkeeper are working hard to gather the data as well as change the tide of public opinion for swimming in D.C. waterways. Here at ICPRB, we know the public is curious because we get asked throughout the summer, “Is it Safe to Swim in the Potomac“?

It has been decades in the making, but it is apparent that we are approaching a watershed moment for swimming in District waters.

So, let’s explore a century of policies, engineering, and advocacy that got us to where we are today.

Photo Credit: Margaret Gass (LOC)

The growing population of the early 1900s used the waterway for waste disposal—human waste, industrial waste, agricultural waste—it all went in the river. As the population continued to increase, the tidal waters of the District grew increasingly worse. The tidal basin and other areas were popular swimming holes in the early part of the century until legislation restricting swimming began in the early 1930s. See below for a slideshow of photos highlighting the summer fun of the roaring ’20s

The population of the metropolitan area doubled in the 1940s, the same decade that ICPRB was established. The ICPRB’s first order of business was to collect data for the basin’s initial assessment.  ICPRB was tasked with answering the question, “How bad was it and why?” The study found that the vast majority of the river’s population was served by primary sewage treatment, which means that only solids were removed from raw sewage. The report also noted the importance of the river in people’s daily lives through recreation, fishing, and transportation.

A man stands in a boat, holding his nose. Across the river is an industrial complex with several smokestacks blowing smoke.

1953: Senator Wayne Morse holds his nose against the stench of the Potomac River near Georgetown. (ICPRB)

The 1950s opened with an ICPRB report that noted the entire river was unsafe for drinking, questionably safe for swimming upstream of Great Falls, questionably safe for recreation between Key Bridge and Haines Point, and the river downstream in the District was unsuitable for any purpose. A 1954 ICPRB report on DC-area water pollution helped inform a 1957 U.S. Public Health Service declaration that the Potomac in the District was “unsafe for swimming.” The report and pronouncement were important in leveraging authorization of public works and sewerage expansion that would begin to address the sewage problem.

In the 1960s, swimming and eating fish caught from river shore remained illegal, but the public continued to look toward the river. Lady Bird Johnson donated an elegant floating fountain that shot high up into the air in the Potomac River. During high winds the fountain was turned off due to fears the spray would douse the National Airport with cholera germs. The fountain was eventually deemed a public health hazard for spraying high levels of coliform bacteria onto the nearby park. Events like these increased public consciousness and activity. The decade saw the federal Water Pollution Control Act, Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” and growing stewardship. Both federal and local laws were pushing for greater water quality.

Photo Credit: Mount Vernon (ICPRB)

The 1970s saw continuing improvements to water quality in the metropolitan area and nationwide with the passing of the Clean Water Act and later amendments. The act guided federal money and restoration efforts, primarily in improved sewage treatment. The era saw increased public interest and pressure for better water quality. Residents of the District wanted to be close to the river in ways that were still in practice both upstream and downstream. Yet, D.C. water quality, including huge annual mats of blue green algae, resulted in a water contact prohibition by the D.C. Council in 1971. The growing public interest in a healthier environment in the 1970s kept the pressure on to clean up metropolitan waters. Riverfront signage in D.C. and down to Mount Vernon warned people to avoid contact with the water and to wash pets that came in contact with it.

Lady Bird Johnson’s Potomac River fountain that was eventually deemed a public health hazard. (ICPRB)

Yet, there was hope. Annual algal mats declined during much of the decade, and largemouth bass returned to the river along with the return of bass guides who targeted D.C. waters.

Citizen interest in the river and the waterfront continued to build in the 1980s. The interest in the river’s health grew alongside interest in revitalizing the metro waterfronts and improved access. The effort was boosted by a National Marine Fisheries Service report on waterfront revitalization. The ICPRB, along with several federal agencies and some waterfront businesses formed the Washington Area Waterfront Action Group (WAWAG). The ad hoc organization sought to leverage revitalization interest along government-controlled land and sought ways to create a better public experience along the waterfront.

The WAWAG worked to transform the moribund Washington waterfront in many aspects. One was a task force to address swimming and other water contact recreation. The group held a press conference on bathing beaches and created a list of possible sites for bathing beaches along the metro river. The group’s efforts helped inspire other efforts.  Windsurfers in the District were angered that the boards were considered water contact, and so they held a press conference in which a number of windsurfers dressed in business suits and brought attaché cases aboard. This televised water rally proved that windsurfing was not necessarily a water contact sport, similar to canoeing and kayaking. A 1982 WAWAG report offered suggestion for potential “bathing areas” in the District.

Map of possible bathing beaches from WAWAG report.

Potential swimming sites shown in WAWAG’s report.

The beginning of the Potomac Riverfests in D.C., and similar efforts in Alexandria and other communities became annual affairs.

Rambling Raft festivals were begun in D.C. Unfortunately, a resurgence in summer algae blooms and other considerations halted some of these events.

The wave created by WAWAG and other groups continued to grow, and demand for swimming remained an issue. In the early 2000s, ICPRB was approached by the Nation’s Triathlon, which was creating an event in D.C. The ICPRB helped direct them to the proper officials in D.C. government to get a permit for a swimming section off the National Mall. The permit required them to monitor the water for a month before the event to ensure acceptable water quality. The swim portion was cancelled several times during the event’s several years of running due to the stringent water quality requirement.

Map of possible bathing beaches from PRK report.

Potomac Riverkeeper Network’s Swimmable Potomac Report 2022

Now, Potomac Riverkeeper Network (PRN), Anacostia Riverkeeper, and other groups conduct weekly water quality monitoring to promote swimming and river recreation. Many of the test sites get the swimming “thumbs up” when the data is published at Just like the WAWAG report in the 1980s, the recent report published by PRN, Swimmable Potomac Report 2022, proposed several areas for public beaches in the future.

As the health of the river has improved over the eight decades since ICPRB was created, ICPRB has worked alongside government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and the public to increase access and stewardship to our Nation’s River. We look forward to seeing D.C. residents and visitors take a cooling dip in the river on a hot summer day. As Lord David Attenborough says, “No one will protect what they don’t care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced.”

  • Two women play leapfrog in old fashioned bathing suits along the tidal basin / Potomac River.
    Photo credit: Library of Congress
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Registration Open for 2022 PFAS Conference

Register today for the 2022 Potomac River Conference: A Conversation on PFAS on September 22, 2022.

Join the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin for a virtual conference on the state of the science, policy, technology, and the future of PFAS in the Potomac River basin. See the full agenda on our Events page or register here.



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About the Basin: Burke Lake Park

Burke Lake Park

7315 Ox Road, Fairfax Station, Virginia

Burke Park Lake at sunset.

Photo Credit: Burke Lake Park by Martin Chen (Flickr)

Are you a golfer? A train enthusiast? Are you into volleyball? Fishing? Or maybe orienteering is your thing. Whatever it is, Burke Lake Park has you covered. This 888-acre park in Fairfax Station, Virginia boasts a variety of activities for all interests, ages, and abilities. Just visit for the day or stay overnight at the Burke Lake campground.

Burke Lake has a 4.7-mile scenic trail along its shoreline that is perfect for bikers, hikers, and walkers. It was voted one of the top best fitness trails in the nation by American Hiking Society.

Bring your boat or rent one to get out on the lake. They have fishing kayaks, canoes, or electric motorboats available on a first-come, first-served basis. The lake is known for the strong largemouth bass population so don’t forget your fishing pole.

Kids and adults adore riding the Miniature Central Specific Huntington Steam Engine. A $5 ticket gets you a 10-minute ride through the woods on the mini-train.  After your train ride, head over to the carousel for some old-fashioned fun.

Amenities at the Park will provide a sporting-good time. There are three types of golf—mini-, regular-sized, and frisbee golf—plus, a driving range to practice your swing. You can feel the sand beneath your feet as you spike a ball on their volleyball courts.

Adventurers can try their hand at orienteering, a navigational sport that uses a map and compass. There are three different maps to choose from: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Geocaching sites are located throughout the park as well.

Join Park staff for one of the many interesting classes and activities, like Twilight by Kayak, Campfire Cooking, and Birdwatching for Beginners.

Visit the Burke Lake Information Center for orienteering maps, frisbee golf score cards, and more information on ways to enjoy your visit to the Park.

Don’t forget to wrap-up the fun day with a hand-dipped scoop at the Burke Lake Park ice cream parlor.

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About the Basin: G. Richard Thompson Wildlife Management Area

Thompson Wildlife Management Area

July 15, 2022

Markham, VA

Thompson WMA forest with a carpet of large-flowered trillium flowers.

Photo credit: Judy Gallagher, Large-flowered Trillium – Trillium grandiflorum, G.R. Thompson Wildlife Management Area, Linden, Virginia (Flickr)

Richard Thompson Wildlife Management Area, or Thompson WMA for short, is a gem of a recreational area in northwestern Fauquier County, Virginia. It is close enough for a day trip from the DC Metro area but far enough to make it feel a world away.

The highlight of Thompson WMA is the abundance of large-flowered trillium in the spring. Each spring, around Mother’s Day, the forest floor is carpeted with these showy, colorful flowers for as far as the eye can see. It’s not just the flowers that put on a show. The birds are in competition with the trillium for Best in Show. The stunning colors of birds like the cerulean warbler and scarlet tanager mix with the sights and sounds of a plethora of migrating and residential birds, creating a bird-watchers paradise. A Virginia Department of Wildlife Resource video, Trillium Bloom at Thompson WMA, shares some of the treasures you can find on a spring morning.

The Appalachian Trail runs through Thompson WMA along the crest of the Blue Ridge mountains. Various trails branch off the Appalachian, creating a network of rugged, but rewarding, hiking trails. The trails are multi-use, including equestrians, so don’t be surprised if you come upon a horse or two.

Dress in your finest orange attire during hunting season since this is a popular area for hunters. Deer are the most sought after, but turkey, woodcock, grouse, and other small game are possibilities.

Wildlife management areas are managed for wildlife and humans get the benefit. But that also means that there are few amenities, trails can be rugged, and roads can be rutted. Plan accordingly.

There are 11 designated parking areas throughout the WMA. Cell reception is spotty, so if you plan to meet a friend, make sure to agree on a specific parking area in advance.

Please make sure to follow the permitting requirements when utilizing public land. Anyone over the age of 17 requires an access permit to visit a Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources-owned wildlife management area. Hunting and fishing licenses are required for their respective activities. Additionally, there are special permitting requirements for camping in Virginia’s wildlife management areas.

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ICPRB’s Fishing Report – July 15, 2022

Fishing News

Striped Bass Closure

The striped bass fishery on the tidal Potomac mainstem is closed until August 21. All Maryland areas of the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries, including on the Potomac, will be closed to any targeting of striped bass – including catch-and-release and charter boats–through July 31. This conservation measure was enacted because hot weather and low oxygen this time of year creates tough conditions for striped bass to survive catch and release – and this high mortality impacts the future of our fishery.

Fishing Report

The Shenandoah system is fishing well and recent storms have provided a small boost to the summertime flows. A mix of smallmouth bass, sunfish and channel catfish are being caught. The water is clear and both the North and South forks are fishable. Water clarity is good, and temperatures are near 80 degrees. Early morning and sunset are produce some nice topwater bites. The mountain trout streams are warming with some hatches occurring.

Anglers on the South Branch Potomac are finding some nice smallmouth in the low, clear water. The sector around Petersburg is popular.

The North Branch Potomac and Savage rivers continue to produce rainbow and brown trout in the management areas. The ICPRB is working with Maryland and other stakeholders to assess water temperatures and looking at how management can be improved to provide better conditions for the cold water fishery.

The upper Potomac River is running low and fairly clear with some stain. Water temperatures are near 80 degrees. The river continues to fish very well this season, and good catches can be had from the mouth of the Monocacy River to Point of Rocks. The downstream edge of the water stargrass at point of Rocks is worth a try, and the river down to Brunswick is productive in areas with rock gardens, fallen trees, and other structure that hold fish. Small plastics fished slowly in the rocks will find fish, often more than one from a given target. Long casts and finesse with the hook set go a long way toward landing a nice smallmouth bass. Channel catfish and large flathead catfish can be taken with lures or cut bait. There is always a chance for an elusive musky. An angler recently reported catching a northern snakehead downstream of Dam 4, and may be a sign of a growing population in the river. Snakeheads have been living in the watered parts of the C&O canal for some time.

In the metro area, temperatures are in the mid-80s with fairly clear water. Largemouth bass are being taken upstream of Key Bridge. In the District, anglers drawn to sparse grass beds. The Pentagon lagoon and Washington Channel are holding bass. Bridge pilings and docks are being targeted with crank baits and soft plastics near the pilings. The lower Anacostia is giving up some bass and snakeheads. The spoils area and docks at National Harbor are worth a try.

The tidal Potomac is seeing clear water and temperatures in the mid-80s. The Mount Vernon, Dogue Creek, and Little Hunting creek are less crowded than the downstream areas with established grass beds. Docks and underwater structure are holding largemouth bass, The heads of tidal creeks with grass are giving up nice snakeheads. The extensive grass beds in Mattawoman. Chickamuxen, and Aquia creeks are good but busy areas. Anglers are using chatterbaits, soft plastics, and other jigs on moving tides. Floating frog lures can bring exciting bites when dragged over the grass beds. Blue catfish will take cut bait most anywhere, but especially the channel edges off Fort Washington.

Fishing activity around the Colonial Beach area has slowed with the closure of the striped bass fishery.  Water temperatures are in the mid-80s with fairly clear water. Anglers are finding small croaker, spot, and white perch. Spanish mackerel are coming into the area. Blue catfish are not hard to find.. The slowly increasing salinity from dryer weather is bringing in some sea nettles, and there are a lot of dolphins to watch.

Near the river’s mouth, anglers are finding nice white perch. Croaker and spot are becoming more plentiful. Some speckled trout and red drum are being taken. Anglers are finding some, nice cobia off Smith Point. Some are using cut bait to get cobia, but that also invites bites from cownose rays. Spanish mackerel are being taken by trolling. And when the bite is poor for some species, the ubiquitous blue catfish will usually cooperate. Crabbing has improved with the heat and dry weather.

We are grateful to the many river watchers who contribute to this effort. Particular thanks go to the state departments of natural resources, National Bass Guides, Shallow Water Fishing Adventures, and  Machodoc Creek Marina, Inc.