Liberty 'prospector' mines for stripers

ON THE OUTDOORS

November 23, 1997|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

Jerry Sauter slid his rig off the trailer at Liberty Reservoir on Thursday, as he has done innumerable times over the past 30 years, although he admitted it was one of the coldest mornings he has gone to fish the 3,100-acre impoundment between Baltimore and Carroll counties.

"At least the boat isn't frozen to the trailer, like it was yesterday," said Sauter, who has held state records for three different species over the years. "And if today is like yesterday, we could be in for some excitement."

On Wednesday, Sauter caught a rockfish he thought would reclaim the freshwater record for stripers, a 47-incher weighed in at Clyde's Sports Shop.

"I want that record bad, and I thought I had it again with that fish," said Sauter, who retired recently and often goes "prospecting" on Liberty now. "But big as it was, it still was a couple of pounds shy."

Travis Henkins of nearby Finksburg holds the current record for freshwater rockfish, a 41-pound, 6-ounce catch made this spring. Henkins' mark beat the 37-8 striper caught by Sauter in 1996, which beat the 36-4 record Sauter set in November 1995.

"For years, I fished mostly for bass -- largemouths and smallmouths," said Sauter, 57, who held the state smallmouth record for about a year in the late 1960s at 6 pounds, 7 ounces and the largemouth record for a decade at 10 pounds, 1 ounce.

"But these big rockfish in this lake really are a new challenge for me, and I like the challenge -- the fishing -- as much as the catching and maybe more."

Challenges always have been important to Sauter, from youth and high school basketball to handling major sales accounts for Kraft Foods.

"You take a $2 million-a-month account like Giant Food, and that's a challenge," said Sauter, who through the years handled Giant, Safeway and A&P accounts for Kraft and retired as sales )) manager.

"That one account [Giant] took the whole week, every week I had it. Meet with them on Monday to sell and then spend the rest of the week setting up for the next Monday. They were the sharpest business people I ever dealt with, and it was hard work."

These days, however, the challenge is stripers -- particularly the monsters that roam Liberty and have been growing since a stocking program was initiated there by the Department of Natural Resources in the early 1980s.

"I know there are some real hogs in here. I've caught 13 over 30 pounds since I really started fishing for them," said Sauter, who caught the striper bug after watching regional director Ed Enamait and a DNR fisheries crew run an electroshock survey in 1994. "And while those are the biggest freshwater fish I ever have caught -- and to me a 30-pounder is still amazing -- I know I can break the record, and I want to break it really bad."

At the end of October, Sauter caught two 40-pound stripers, the largest he has caught, and in a note attached to a photograph of the two fish, he wrote, "I need a 43-pound fish -- it might kill me trying to find him."

Thursday, as Sauter trolled away from the launch ramp along Liberty Road, he said, "The way you learn this lake is by prospecting. You find out a little bit of information at a time, and when you have almost all the bits, you start to strike it rich."

As Sauter trolled off Chair Point and Three Fingers Cove toward Plumbers Point, he noted the bars and humps that have produced big stripers on a variety of baits and lures. As he turned past Plumbers Point and headed into the western arm of the reservoir, the nature of the challenge at hand began to take shape.

"Ed [Enamait] says the big stripers move into the northern arm, above Nicodemus Bridge, in the fall," said Sauter, who was trolling blue-backed plugs deep enough to bump the humps and bars that were hills and ridges before the reservoir was filled several decades ago.

"I'm not sure he's right, but I'm not sure he's wrong, either," said Sauter, as a pair of bald eagles lifted from the northern tree line. "The only way to be certain is to fish it and see what you catch, what information you can find."

Sauter found very little Thursday -- two largemouth bass close to 4 pounds off one long shallow bar and a 4 1/4 -pound smallmouth off a deep, rocky shoreline. Small change for a guy keenly interested in big stripers.

"But a smallmouth like that, over 4 pounds, that's a trophy fish in my opinion," Sauter said. "And you remember trophies, even if you have caught several dozen of them during a lifetime."

After Sauter had worked the reservoir rig back down the lake toward the launch ramp, he settled over a long bar running roughly east to west off an unnamed point, and rigged his secret weapon for the day, live eels.

"I've fished these only a couple of times here, but you never know, this just might be the day they work," Sauter said. But after a half-dozen drifts along the bar, he decided to call it a day. The light was fading and the temperature falling.

"[Wednesday] I caught that big striper right out here, a couple of minutes from the ramp," Sauter said as we approached the boat anchorage. "I wanted so bad just to go back in and weigh it right then. But I knew if I did, anyone could figure out where I caught it."

So, Sauter said, he traveled around the reservoir -- into the western arm and then up to and beyond Nicodemus Bridge -- showing it to people in each area, and throwing other fishermen off his trail.

"There are a lot of good fishermen on this lake, and usually I share information with them," Sauter said. "But there are times when you just have to keep them guessing."

Pub Date: 11/23/97

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