Bridges are tempting bait for fishing aficionados Local spans draw loyal fans with rods, reels and crab traps


October 01, 1991|By Barbara H. Smith

Gone fishing on Route 146.

Traffic rumbles across the Matthews Bridge at Loch Raven Reservoir.

The fish jump.

The observation deck sways and shimmies. Silence.

Then the delicate plop of a fishing weight as a fisherman's line hits the reservoir's waters.

This scene is repeated time and again whether at the Matthews Bridge, the only bridge of 20 in the Maryland watershed system where fishing is allowed, or at three bridges found in the city. However, crabbing is the favored pastime off the city bridges.

Clarence A. Richardson spends five days a week at Matthews Bridge, his favorite fishing post. Mr. Richardson situates himself at center of the deck and attaches his rods to the rail. The sound of jazz flows from the rain-slicker yellow radio-flashlight that sits to his right. Behind him, the traffic is only a background noise.

"I don't even know those cars are back there," said the 60-year-old retiree. His concentration is straight ahead and straight down.

Suddenly, a fishing rod curves toward the reservoir waters.

A bite? The stout man in gray pants and black suspenders leaps forward. Indeed, there is a fine 8-inch bluegill on the end of his line. Mr. Richardson adds this catch to a bucket that holds four other bluegill.

"They're running slow today," he said, adding that he caught four times as many bluegill last week.

He readies his line for the next toss and places a "wax worm" on the end of the hook. "This is bee larva and it is the best bait to use at the reservoir," he explained.

"I can never get enough fish to eat. I have two freezers in my basement, my garden out back and my National Premium on tap, that's all I need," said what appears to be a very content man.

The original Matthews Bridge was built in the early 1920s. The narrow, two-lane structure of latticed steel carried travelers to the then sparsely populated Dulaney Valley and into the Loch Raven watershed. The old bridge didn't allow for fishing. The relatively new concrete structure does. It has five observation decks, three of which have platforms and benches for relaxing or fishing.

Mr. Richardson paused and leaned over the railing as a gentle breeze drifted over the bridge. He smiled and said: "When the wind is blowing the fish seem to bite. It makes the bait move and this catches their eye, so to speak."

Movement in the waters seems to draw fish and crabs to the bait. And it doesn't matter whether it is a gentle breeze at Loch Raven, or the tide going out 13 miles away at the Patapsco River.

Traffic thunders across the 45-year-old Potee Street Bridge. The fish still jump. Tremors rock this bridge. There is rarely silence.

Yet, the sound of crab traps can still be heard hitting the water. Or, in the next moment, a CSX train rumbling over the span, so close you can almost touch it.

The Potee Bridge is popular with crabbers. On this cloudy, rain threatening day, only three men brave the elements. Two are crabbers, the other has thrown both a fishing line and a crab trap.

On the noisy east side of the bridge, Jack E. Hurst, a 68-year-old retired Montgomery Ward employee, stands alone and looks down into the Patapsco River. He pulls up one of his traps and finds Maryland's pride and joy, a blue crab bouncing around the steel trap, claws up, ready to strike. This makes catch No. 20.

"This catch is nothing compared to last week. I was here at 5 a.m. and by 10 a.m. I had a bushel of crabs," he said, with a look of pride. "This abundance will feed my family when they visit. My son is in Germany and he loves nothing more than to come home to Maryland crab soup or crab cakes."

Mr. Hurst makes the short trek to the bridge once a week from his Lakeland Community home. To get ready for his day, he throws in the trunk of his car a weathered chair, a bushel basket, a bucket and most important, his bait: chicken necks and carp fish heads. Mr. Hurst is strictly a crabber.

"The fish you catch here aren't so great. You can bring in some small spot, carp, which aren't worth eating, and I guess the best to eat would be catfish," he said with authority.

Fifteen minutes pass. Like clockwork, Mr. Hurst checks his traps and then returns to his chair. He faces the west side and the traffic. Tractor-trailers, smaller trucks and cars roar past him. The sound is deafening. He yells to be heard, braces himself for the blast of soot and exhaust. Without thinking, he grabs hold of his hat.

The breeze rushing past him is different from the one Mr. Richardson enjoys at Loch Raven Reservoir. Though the two sportsmen are miles apart and in very different surroundings, what is important to both in a day's catch is the quantity and, of course, the quality.

Said Mr. Richardson, who has been coming to the Matthews Bridge since 1976: "Once I got the fishing fever and got a good catch I just couldn't stop. If they had lights, I would be up here every night."

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