Rabbit season is running down, but fishermen aren't waiting until hunting ends.
In this winter with winter weather at a minimum, some fish haven't stopped biting.
It's the same in most of Maryland's reservoirs with the exceptionof Conowingo and Deep Creek Lake, where waters have been colder and a few times a bit more than skim ice has formed.
Incidentally at Deep Creek Lake, enough ice is in a few shallow coves to permit ice fishing, but unless a prolonged cold spell develops quickly this could be the second consecutive year the 3,900-acre impoundment hasn't frozen over.
No one in the mountains remembers two straight years without a frozen lake -- and single ice-free seasons can be counted on one hand.
Too bad, because the Garrett County reservoir -- Maryland's largest -- is as good an ice fishing opportunity as any in the Mid-Atlantic region, though some Pennsylvania waters are talked about more.
Without ice -- except for pesky short-lived skim ice -- reservoirs close to and in Carroll County have attracted anglers in numbers dependent on weather conditions.
A warm day brings them out and also prompts an appetite within fish, especially yellow perch and crappies. Mixed in are a few bass.
Baltimorean Robert Schneider and Hank Gould hooked five Liberty Reservoir perch on small minnows the other day before the latest cold snap moved in; two of them were 11 inches, and another was 10.
They fished the Morgan Run Bridge sector, said Gould, who added he has found larger perch bite in mid- and late-winter -- and they prefer minnows.
Even Bob Sheppard of Timonium agrees to that, though he remains partial to blown-up live night crawlers year 'round.
Sheppard, who mostly fishes Loch Raven, where both crappies and perch are catchable these days, said the fat worms aremore likely to take an occasional bass, which he prefers though he releases them.
The buoyant blown-up worms are ideal for winter angling when fish are rather sluggish and reluctant to expend much energyin pursuit of bait. The puffy and buoyant worm remains several inches or more above the bottom where fish can see it easily and deliberate before making their move.
It's a technique Sheppard uses successfully all year, but is particularly effective in cool and cold weather. And it's simple.
Soft plastic "blow" bottles are available in many tackle shops. Try one (they don't cost much more than a buck).
Attach a crawler to a wire hook, putting the point through the worm's band. Then squeeze the bottle a couple of times to inflate the wormto nearly double its diameter.
This will cause it to suspend above the bottom on a rig that involves a small sinker (just big enough for casting and to hold bottom) and a short line of about 12 inches tied above the sinker.
If you prefer -- and know the depth you are fishing -- the blown-up worm also can be fished below a bobber rig with just enough split shot attached to the line to offset the buoyancy of the worm.
Whether fished straight or below a bobber, the technique is the same. Allow the fish to take the bait, make a very short run, then set the hook hard.
In cold weather it is important to keep an eye on the line or the bobber. This time of year, fish take a bait very lightly. Snooze and you lose.
Small minnows are an excellent choice for both perch and crappies, and best fished when lip-hooked to small wire hooks in basically the same pattern.
Early bass also will take minnows -- and in a couple of weeks they will be exceptionally productive for bank fishermen when lip-hooked to a small to medium spinner.
The bass-keeping season closes March 1, and after that it will still be legal to fish for them, though they must be promptly returned to the water unharmed.
Bass, crappies and perch aren't the only fish available. Streams are turning up a few trout -- morethan a few at the not-too-distant Gunpowder River in Baltimore County.
But, don't rule out Morgan Run, where some are available. Wormsare a good choice, but nymphs, stone flies and other patterns can catch them now.
Robert Boner, professor of math at Western Maryland College, said he has caught trout on and near the surface on flies inwinter. He prefers that method, as do many fishing the Gunpowder with moderate success.
Boner is just winding up an indoor fly tying and casting course at the college, and in April plans another that will be more on casting -- and possibly catching.
Classes run three hours a week for four weeks, and there might be some openings for outsiders in April. Stay tuned, and we'll let you know of vacancies.
Meanwhile, try fishing when temperatures make it not too uncomfortable.
Indoor tackle tinkering is pleasurable, but not nearly as much as fishing -- whether or not they're biting.
The 10th annual Early Bird Fishing Tournament is coming to Piney Run Park in Eldersburg from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 28.
The tournament, sponsored by theMaryland Recreation and Parks Association, offers $20,000 in prize money. Categories include $600 for the largest fish caught from the shore, $700 for the largest caught from a boat and $1,000 each for a specially tagged bluegill and catfish, and many other cash categories.
A specially tagged striped bass (rockfish) is worth $10,000.
Entry is $30 for a shore fishers and $35 for boat anglers. Registrationis limited.
Maryland fishing regulations apply, catch and releaseis encouraged.
Registration forms are available from the MarylandRecreation and Parks Association.
Information: (410) 536-4400.