West Virginia trout show to draw crowd in Maryland


March 19, 2000|By CANDUS THOMPSON

"Everybody loves the stocking truck," hollers Jonathan Folk over the growl of the engine as we bounce down a West Virginia dirt road, a few miles southwest of the papermill town of Luke, Md.

A glance in the huge side mirror shows a string of cars tagging behind like sea gulls after a trawler. Drivers and passengers know their reward for eating some dust will be first crack at what is sloshing around in the truck's bins.

Trout -- brown and cutthroat -- will be released soon at several stops along an 8-mile stretch of the North Branch of the Potomac River.

It's trout-stocking time for Maryland waters as the put-and-take season gets ready to rock on March 25.

The state is depositing more than 440,000 trout in lakes, rivers and streams, down a tad from previous years, because last year's drought played havoc with water levels at the hatcheries.

But the drought also meant an earlier start on stocking. The Department of Natural Resources put 15,500 rainbow trout into Liberty Reservoir late last year and did the same in January in a number of lakes and ponds in central and Southern Maryland.

At the net pens submerged just below the Jennings Randolph dam in Garrett County, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources fisheries staff is already in midseason form.

In an almost choreographed exercise, workers scoop up trout, weigh the wiggling net (45 pounds to the scoop, two fish to the pound) and plop them into a big blue tub. The tub is hauled up the river bank to the waiting truck.

The operation always attracts an audience. On the West Virginia hills above, fishermen sit watching, counting how many trips the DNR men make between the pens and the truck.

"The only reason they're not down here is, it's off limits," jokes Steve Early, DNR freshwater fisheries associate director, as he watches the fishermen watch him.

The pens are a bureaucratic oddity, run by Maryland in West Virginia on the site of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project. The fish are introduced to the river from the West Virginia side, because Maryland has no access points in the vicinity.

The net pens are made of nylon netting anchored to a floating dock in the spillway below the dam. DNR biologist Mike Dean built two pens about 13 years ago and was able to raise more than 20,000 brown trout. Now, he oversees 18 pens that are home to more than 100,000 fish.

Because the Corps can tap into the 30 billion-gallon Jennings Randolph Reservoir from a variety of depths, "we can dial up just about any temperature we want" to keep the trout healthy, Dean says.

Dean and his crew put between 20,000 and 25,000 trout into the North Branch every year, beginning in early March. The first day this year, they worked in T-shirts. Last year, it was 13-below, and the crew had to fight to keep the water in the stocking truck from freezing.

Put and take

The old guys at the Ugly Diner in Meredith, N.H., would be shaking their heads if they could see DNR's latest online offering.

Since mid-February, the fisheries portion of the site has been supplying full-color maps with the trout-stocking schedule.

Just go to the Web site (www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries) and navigate to the spring 2000 trout-stocking schedule. When you see a site that interests you, click on it, and up pops a map of the put-and-take area that you can print out.

"It's a project I've dreamed about for three years," says self-described DNR computer jockey George Sackett.

He and Paul Genovese put the site together, and so far it has been visited about 10,000 times.

But that's just the beginning, Sackett says. The two men are culling other state databases to create an online inventory of 350 boat ramps in the state, with helpful information about the number of parking spaces, availability of concessions and other amenities, and contact numbers. Later, they hope to add similar information about fishing piers, and then link the whole listing to tide charts and water level information.

Low water, broken hearts

If you had your heart set on taking advantage of traditional trout stocking below the Loch Raven Reservoir or on Herring Run between Echodale Avenue and Cold Spring Lane in Baltimore, it's about to be broken.

Low water flow has changed things, at least temporarily.

DNR says the 2,250 trout usually earmarked for the area below the dam and along Cromwell Bridge Road will be divided among three other spots: the Gunpowder near U.S. 1, Little Gunpowder Falls and Dundalk's Salisbury Pond.

The 300 trout earmarked for Herring Run will be put in around Harford Road on March 29.

Things will go back to normal when the water level does.

Quarter-inch equals $125

A reader sent in a letter, asking for comment on what she sees as an injustice by the state.

It seems the reader and her husband caught what they thought was a legal rockfish last season. When a Natural Resources Police officer measured it, he determined the fish was a quarter-inch undersize and gave the couple a $125 citation.

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