ANNAPOLIS -- Trout and black bass are each, in their own right, a rite of spring -- and each, given the impact of increasing fishing pressure, is managed with an eye toward ensuring the propagation or stabilization of the species.
At a media workshop early last week at the Department of Natural Resources, director of freshwater fisheries Robert Bachman assessed Maryland's management programs for trout and black bass.
In a number of Maryland counties, trout fishing is a put-and-take process that provides four weeks to three months of super fishing and then fades away until the arrival of new hatchery stocks the next spring.
But there is another side to trout fishing in Maryland, a facet that Bachman displays proudly and ever larger portions of the state's 200,000 freshwater fishermen are looking upon with renewed interest: an increase in populations of naturally reproducing trout in select waters.
"When it comes to management, clearly the two most intensively managed fisheries are the trout and the black bass -- largemouth and smallmouth," Bachman said. "One of the reasons that you tend to see a lot of information on the trout fishery is that it is, first of all, the only put-and-take fishery that is a cost-effective fishery."
Through the state hatchery program, the Department of Natural Resources raises brown and rainbow trout to catchable size and then stocks them in parts of the state where there otherwise might be limited fishing opportunity.
These are the put-and-take fish, those trout raised to be caught with cheese baits and kernels of corn in areas that probably would not support a population of rainbows or browns once the weather warms and the water level drops.
What makes the Maryland trout program more interesting, Bachman said, is the success of natural reproduction in waters that once were considered barren, what he calls the "dial-a-trout program."
"We [the DNR, with the assistance of volunteers from fishermen's organizations] are able to go into most of our naturally reproducing trout streams and practically get the Social Security number and birth date of every trout in that stream," Bachman said. "And we can tell how fast they are growing and from that make reasonable -- I hope -- management decisions."
Most of those decisions come to the public in the form of regulations. The yearly regulations are a double-edged sword that can cut fishing pressure or open new territory.
Two areas that have benefited from intense management over the past few years are the lower Savage River and the Gunpowder Falls in Baltimore County. The lower Savage River, for example, will not be stocked at all this year.
"The reason is that our surveys over the last four years have shown that we now have natural reproduction of brook and brown trout in that five miles of river [from the Savage River Reservoir downstream to the confluence with the North Branch of the Potomac River]," Bachman said. "It would be counterproductive to stock it. Literally, that place is a veritable nursery for brook trout.
"We now have an 18-inch minimum size on brown trout and a 12-inch minimum on brook trout, and people are catching keepers. That's not bad when you recognize that those are not stocked fish."
The Gunpowder Falls from Prettyboy Dam to Loch Raven Reservoir is another success story -- especially because it is within 25 miles of downtown Baltimore and the focus of intense fishing pressure.
"We have a phenomenal trout fishery in at least eight miles, and maybe a lot farther," Bachman said. "But most of that is on state park property, and there is plenty of parking."
Access to trout waters often translates to fishing pressure. Fishing pressure translates to heavy regulation, and regulation, in this case, translates to an uncommon fishery.
"We have had catch-and-return regulations on one section, two fish per day on another section, put-and-take on the others," Bachman said. "As a result of those regulations, we have had a continuing increase in the standing crop of brown and rainbow trout in the last four years."
But the fear is that the angling pressures on "16- to 17-inch brown trout grown practically at your doorstep would start to go back down," Bachman said.
"So, this year, we have gone with catch-and-return on a three-mile section from York Road down to Blue Mount Road," Bachman said. "I rarely make a prediction, but I'm pretty darn sure that fishery is really going to take off with that protection of these trout that are naturally reproducing."
In the case of stocked trout streams, Maryland has started its biggest stocking schedule in recent years, with some 275,000 trout scheduled to be released in more than 100 sites in 12 counties.
On Town Creek in Allegany County, a delayed harvest program will be instituted. The delayed harvest program is modeled after a similar program on the Casselman River the past three years.