Trout stocking suffering from drought



March 17, 2002|By CANDUS THOMSON

Opening day for trout fishing is less than two weeks away, and the question is, how low can we go?

Drought conditions are playing havoc with the stocking schedule.

"We're looking at a significant alteration of the schedule, especially in Baltimore County," says Bob Lunsford, a state freshwater fisheries manager. "The Little Gunpowder is pathetic."

Add Beaver Run in Carroll County and Piney Run in Baltimore County -- marginal streams during even a good year -- to the list of the pathetic.

Low water levels at the state hatcheries are making it urgent for biologists to move trout, but Lunsford points out that it doesn't make much sense to dump fish in shallow water.

"If we get a batch of warm weather, the temperature is going to shoot up, and that would kill anything we're doing," he says.

And thin water makes the trout vulnerable in other ways.

"Our hatchery guys spend a lot of time raising these fish," says Charlie Gougeon, a Department of Natural Resources biologist who manages the central region of the state. "If we can see them, the great blue herons can see them. There's no sense in letting the birds have a field day."

Biologists have been on the road, scouting streams with sufficient water flow to shelter the trout. The revised schedule will be out later this week and posted on the Department of Natural Resources Web site (

Fewer fish in the streams will most likely mean more fish for places like Baltimore County's Stansbury Park Pond and Gwynn Oak Pond.

"If we reach saturation there, we'll dump them in Prettyboy and Loch Raven," Lunsford said of the two reservoirs.

But things aren't a whole lot better on the big ponds, either.

Prettyboy Reservoir is down almost 40 feet. Last week, gravel trucks from the city of Baltimore tried unsuccessfully to extend the boat ramp with crushed rock. Liberty Reservoir is down 16 feet. Loch Raven 9 feet, Triadelphia 16 feet and Rocky Gorge about 5 feet. Due to low water, the entrances at Route 97 and Pig Tail in Howard County are closed.

In Western Maryland, the situation is bad, but not nearly as dire as in the Baltimore region.

Deep Creek Lake and the upper Potomac River are low, and the lack of snow means there won't be much runoff to replenish them in April and May.

"The rain we've been having is being sucked up by the soil," says fishing guide Brent Nelson. "The runoff has been minimal."

Guides say if substantial rain doesn't come soon, they'll have to reschedule trips to the tidal Potomac.

In some places, the stockers are being aided by nature. Along Deer Creek, beavers have constructed dams, causing nice-size pools for fish.

In other places, man has helped. Great Seneca Creek in Montgomery County has a decent level because of treated water from a wastewater treatment plant. Good fishing spots are near Route 28, at Black Rock Road and at Riffle Ford Road.

The upper end of Little Gunpowder, which has a few pools, was stocked Thursday.

"The fish look fine," says Gougeon. "I've been looking at these things for 22 years, and I'd be happy to catch any of these fish anytime."

One rainbow, better than 18 inches long and weighing more then 3 pounds, was released in a nice, deep pool.

"It's still going to be a good, not great, opening day," says Gougeon. "There won't be quite as much fishable water."

Talking turkey

Bagging a turkey in spring is, to my mind, the toughest and most challenging type of hunting around. Tougher, even, than hunting for a parking space in Manhattan.

Those of us who are card-carrying members of the short-attention-span club aren't really suited for sitting motionless for hours, wrapped in camouflage up to our eyeballs, trying to call in a wily gobbler.

But I sure as heck admire those who can and do.

This year's spring turkey season runs from April 18 to May 18. Steve Bittner, the state's turkey expert, predicts a good season for Maryland hunters.

"We'll approach a record again this spring," he says. "The population is continuing to expand. We had better-than-average production last summer, so we'll have more jakes, but the 2-year-old birds are not as abundant.

Bittner says Western Maryland continues to offer good possibilities, but there are other good spots.

"Dorchester is going through the roof. Worcester and Wicomico are coming on strong," he says. "Charles County remains good, and Prince George's took close to 100 birds last year."

Of course, a lot depends on the weather. Wind and rain hamper hearing, and some studies say gobbling is off the day after rain.

As a tune-up for the season, the Central Maryland chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation is having a clinic at the Meyerstation Range in Anne Arundel County on Saturday to pass along time-tested techniques.

Instructors will talk about scouting, safety and ethics, calls and decoys and camouflage. Shotgun patterning and field exercises will be included in the day-long clinic.

The cost is $6 for adults, and youngsters under 17 are free.

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