For fishermen, a bright spot in January

UP FRONT

Bass expo: The middle of winter will not catch the savvy angler idling away his time, not with the

Bass Expo, Saltwater Fishing & Fly Fishing Show coming to town.

January 14, 1999|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

For recreational fishermen, January is the worst month, the time of year when relatively few will fish, even on the warm, bluebird days. It is the month when cabin fever takes hold -- and the common cure often is found on a circuit of fishing shows and flea markets that stretch through winter into early spring.

"What else are you going to do," said Richard Novotny, executive director of the 7,500-member Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association, "but go to the shows and hope for an early spring?"

The circuit opens today at the state fairgrounds in Timonium with the Bass Expo, Saltwater Fishing & Fly Fishing Show.

According to fishermen, guides, outfitters and retailers, this show, with an impressive schedule of seminars and demonstrations and more than 3 acres of boats, tackle and accessories, is the Baltimore area's biggest and best.

And it is the seminars and demonstrations -- with such celebrity anglers as bass-fishing expert Don Iovino, former Sun outdoors editor Lefty Kreh, ESPN fishing-show host Jose Wejebe and fly-fishing author Ed Jaworowski -- that seem to be the greatest attraction for fishermen interested in improving their skills and learning about new areas to fish.

"Fishing shows have changed over the years," said Baltimore's legendary Kreh, who has given fly-casting demonstrations at shows around the world since 1951 and will be at the Timonium show Saturday and Sunday. "It used to be more entertainment, like casting eight rods at a time or knocking a cigarette out of a woman's mouth from 60 yards away.

"But that changed years ago, and the emphasis now is to teach people to do a better job."

Throughout the four-day show, 75 seminars are scheduled on everything from chumming and casting for king mackerel to trout-stream casting techniques.

"Where else is anyone going to find all that talent in one place and have the chance to ask 2,000 questions and get answers to all of them?" said Bob Clouser of Middletown, Pa., an internationally recognized expert on fly fishing for smallmouth bass and many other species, who will be at the show.

Even in those years when a rare blizzard strikes the area, such as 1996, the 158,000 square feet of the Cow Palace are certain to be busy from open to close, with parents and children, tackle buyers and sellers, teachers and students.

"These people are crazy for fishing. They will line up outside the doors for hours waiting to get in," said Novotny.

For a dozen years, the expo was strictly about bass fishing, a competitive pastime well-suited to fresh and tidal waters throughout the state. But despite the popularity of bassin', show president Bob Dobart said, crowds and sales at the expo began to level off, and he started to look around for new attractions.

"Then, once the rockfish moratorium had been off a few years, bay fishing seemed to be on the upswing again," said Dobart of the early and mid-1990s. "And about the same time 'A River Runs Through It' was in the theaters, and there was an explosion in fly-fishing interest. So it made sense that it was time to expand the show."

Three years ago, Dobart added extensive sections on fly fishing and saltwater angling, and now many of the secrets to successful fishing in coastal, tidal and fresh waters in the state can unfold in an afternoon.

Popping and swapping

Norm Bartlett of Baltimore has been running fishing trips on the bay and its tributaries for many years, leading clients to record fish and teaching them how to catch. Bartlett said winter shows are important both as a source of business for the coming seasons and to pass along the skills he has learned in his years of guiding. Popping and swapping, for example, is a deadly method of teasing big fish within range of the average fly caster.

"You can get some real big stripers on popping bugs this way," said Bartlett. He finds the technique especially effective at bringing larger rockfish toward the surface in deep-water areas, such as the Bay Bridge.

"But you want to be there with a buddy before first light at the bridge's western shore stone pile for the best results," he said. "One of you, using a spinning rod, casts a 7-inch popper [lure] with the hooks clipped off and works it to tease the fish up and attract a bite.

"Because there are no hooks, the fish can't be caught by the first guy. But as soon as the fish is up, the guy with the fly rod throws out a popping bug and, often as not, the fish takes it -- and a big striper on a fly rod and a popping bug is pure delight."

The secrets

Sonney Forrest, the top-notch captain of the charter boat Fin Finder, is an easy talker more attuned to traditional bay methods, such as trolling and bottom fishing.

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