Start of trout season heralds spring in Patapsco Valley park


April 05, 1999|By Sally Voris | Sally Voris,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

SIGNS OF SPRING abound in the Patapsco Valley: Peepers sing in the evening, spice bush and bloodroot bloom, fish are biting, and fishermen are wading into the river to catch them.

Trout season opened in the Avalon Area of Patapsco Valley State Park at 5: 30 a.m. March 27. When park ranger Supervisor Fraser Bishop arrived at the gate at 3: 45 a.m., 10 cars were already there.

On opening day, 361 anglers came to fish. One man said it took him longer to get into the park than it took him to catch his limit. The next day by 7 a.m., 61 anglers had passed the booth where park volunteer Suzie Pary collected entrance fees.

Pary grew up on Norris Lane in Elkridge, on a ridge above the park's Orange Grove Scenic Area. She now lives in Rockburn Commons in Elkridge and volunteers to help the park. In the early morning, the area was quiet and restful, the air filled with the freshness of spring.

In the Orange Grove Scenic Area, red maples had begun blooming; the white bark of the sycamores were silhouetted against the muted colors of trees and earth. A chilly breeze came downriver.

A jogger dressed in blue, headphones on, shuffled across the Swinging Bridge; a group of nine mountain bikers swept by on the Grist Mill Trail. A pair of Canada geese flew overhead. The bells from the convent on Hilton Avenue sounded.

They were backdrop to the main event: anglers returning to the river. Some had expensive matching gear; others carried 5-gallon plastic dry-wall buckets and ragtag gear. Anglers came alone, as married couples, as friends, in groups.

Some stood on the bank; others nestled behind granite boulders in the middle of the river; some waded waist-, thigh- or calf-deep into the current.

Two fishermen came ambling up the trail from Orange Grove to Bloede Dam -- one with a neon-orange knit hat; well-worn, faded fishing vest; fishing net hanging from a clip at his waist; towel hanging out of his vest.

He asked Ranger Bishop where the fish were -- he'd had good luck opening day "with the cheapest cheese he could buy." He'd had no luck March 28.

The Department of Natural Resources has stocked the Patapsco River with trout for a number of years. The Avalon Area will remain open for fishing through Sunday. The area will be closed for one week and will reopen at 5 a.m. April 17-19. For more information about fishing, call 1-800-688-FINS.

Jackie Fary, fisheries biologist with the Fish Passage Program of the Department of Natural Resources, is coordinating her department's efforts to rebuild the stocks of anadromous fish in the Patapsco River.

Historically, anadromous fish -- which live in the ocean and spawn in freshwater streams -- migrated up the Patapsco River in spring. Residents of Elkridge remember catching "gudgeons" in their spring migration.

Dams harnessed the Patapsco River to drive mills in the valley during the early Industrial Revolution. Those dams prevented fish from swimming upriver.

Fish ladders have been built at the three major dams: Bloede, Simkins and Daniels. Juvenile hickory shad raised in hatcheries have been stocked in large numbers.

Last year, Fary and others monitored the Bloede Dam in March and April. They did not see any anadromous fish. By May 15, a run of 1,000 blueback herring reached the base of Bloede and spawned there.

This year, volunteers of the Free State Fly Fishers cleaned out the entrance to the fish ladder at the Bloede Dam on March 6. Fary trained them to identify the anadromous fish and explained the procedure to catch and keep samples of hickory shad.

She is coordinating an effort to sample the hickory shad population through "hook-and-line" fishing.

Members of the Free State Fly Fishers, including Ellicott City resident and fishing enthusiast Larry Meyers, are fishing the river with letters authorizing them to do hook-and-line samplings. They catch and freeze hickory shad as samples for DNR.

By examining the otoliths (ear structures) of the sample fish, researchers can determine if the fish came from a hatchery or if it was wild. They can also determine which hatchery the fish came from and when it was released.

Volunteers often monitor the area looking for signs of migrating fish. The best place to see the fish, Fary says, is in the pool of water at the base of the fish ladder. These fish, she says, do not jump the way salmon do. They are repeat spawners and will return to the same rivers year after year.

The dam is about a half-mile upriver from the Orange Grove Area of the park. About two miles downriver in the Avalon Area, the park will hold its Sixth Annual Eco Fest April 24 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Canoeing, hiking, biking, hayrides, climbing, a children's fishing derby, Scales & Tales program, a rubber ducky race, camping demonstration, fishing, and nature and history hikes are planned, and information about a variety of conservation and natural resource projects will be available.

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