With rockfish on scales, jeweler thrown for loop


April 28, 2002|By CANDUS THOMSON

Last Monday, he got his hands on another gem - a 48-inch, 44 1/2 -pound striped bass.

"I've been fishing the [Chesapeake] bay for 10 years and that's the biggest fish I've ever landed," he says of the fish with the 29-inch girth. "I'm still having trouble sleeping just thinking about it."

The heaviest bay rockfish on record weighed 67 pounds, 8 ounces and was caught off Bloody Point in 1995.

Baghdadlian, called "Johnny Bags" by his friends, was part of a charter aboard Capt. Frank Carver Jr.'s Loosen Up out of Deale. They got a late start on the day - reaching Buoy 83 about 1 p.m. Three of Baghdadlian's friends quickly landed fish. The fourth rod bobbed and all of a sudden it was "fish on" for the jeweler.

"I couldn't believe the weight on it," he says. "We were calling it bucketmouth because every time it came up where we could see it, it looked like a five-gallon bucket.

"We knew it was hooked good, so that took away some of the anxiety. Then it was 20 minutes to get it to the boat," he says.

Mates Frank Carver Sr. and Joe Hawk sized up the situation and got out the bigger net.

Baghdadlian loves bay fishing. He estimates he goes out three times during trophy season and 15-20 times "at least" until the end of the regular season in November. Two years ago, he caught a 42-inch, 35-pounder. But this fish, he says, was something else.

"The excitement was overwhelming," he says. "It was a long time coming."

The ride back to the dock was filled with whoops and hollers, and then suddenly Baghdadlian had a new audience.

"The biggest treat of a day like that is coming back to the dock and having bragging rights," he says. "It was nice to hear old-timers come by and say, `You don't get a fish like that often.' There was a tournament going on at the same time there, and my fish would have beaten anything that came in."

Lots of folks came by to snap pictures, and Baghdadlian was more than happy to hoist it off the dock.

"It took two hours to catch the fish and another two hours to get off the dock, but I'm not complaining," he says.

Baghdadlian says he'll have a fiberglass mount made of the fish. The real McCoy has been the source of endless family dinners.

"I have a dad who just loves to eat rockfish, and he's a pretty good cook, too," he says. "We've had it every which way you can have it, and we've given some away to family and friends."

Baghdadlian's favorite preparation is fish and chopped vegetables in a spicy fish stock. His second is a whole fish on the grill.

One thing's for certain. If he catches anymore "Beasts of the East," Baghdadlian is going to have to invest in a bigger grill.

Best for last

Like a good novel, the Senate bill that consolidates hunting license categories and raises fees has a slam-bang ending that should put smiles on the faces of many hunters.

In the final two paragraphs of the multi-page bill, lawmakers gave instructions to the Department of Natural Resources on how to use some of the revenue from license-fee increases. They told the DNR "to open to public hunting at least half the total acreage that is leased for hunting to private individuals on the properties known as the Chesapeake Forest Lands."

The bill's target date is the 2005-2006 hunting season. It also requires DNR to report back to the legislature each year on progress to increase public hunting opportunities.

That should light a fire under the britches of a bureaucracy that has moved at a glacial pace in deciding how to manage 58,000 acres of forests and wetlands on the Eastern Shore acquired by the state.

The 1999 purchase, the largest land acquisition in state history, involved 450 parcels spread over five counties - an area about the size of Baltimore.

The previous owner, Chesapeake Forest Products Co., had leased almost all the land to 300 private hunting clubs, many of them from the Baltimore area. In return for access, club members cared for the property.

The clubs, good stewards over the years, understandably would like to keep their arrangements. But other interests - birders, hikers, horseback riders, and such - would like access to some of the land their tax dollars bought.

To be fair to the state, sorting through this land-management minefield is dangerous work, and this is all uncharted territory. The current DNR hierarchy inherited both the issue and the lack of progress.

Paul Peditto, who heads DNR's wildlife and heritage division, says officials were already having internal meetings about how to tackle Chesapeake Forest Lands when the legislature acted.

A 12-member advisory group of all potential land users is being formulated, and "we are dialing in on the details of which parcels might be best for public hunting and other public uses," he says.

DNR has to look at the environmental impact on each parcel and the potential consequences for abutting landowners.

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