To sum him up, Duke was a keeper

OUTDOORS

October 24, 2004|By CANDUS THOMSON

Duke Nohe was the best friend Maryland fishermen didn't know they had.

As president of the Maryland Aquatic Resources Council, he worked tirelessly on everything from lobbying for new fish stocking trucks to holding certain officials' feet to the fire.

Quietly.

Duke died Tuesday morning the same way.

"There wasn't anybody who worked harder and longer for Maryland fishermen than Duke Nohe," said Jim Gracie, a founder of the Maryland chapter of Trout Unlimited and former chairman of the governor's Sport Fisheries Advisory Commission. "His list of contributions goes on and on. He was a wonderful, caring man."

"Duke was a real asset to the fishing community," said Rich Novotny, executive director of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association. "He was always fighting for the fisherman and the environment."

He had been in ill health, but never complained. The last time we talked, right after I got back from the Athens Olympics, we were conspiring to sneak off to fish on his favorite pond, Prettyboy Reservoir.

Duke hadn't been out in some time and was itching to wet a line. But all the rain from Tropical Storm This and Tropical Depression That worked against us. Damn the weather.

How that man liked to fish. With all respect to the famed lure, Duke Nohe was the Bass Assassin.

The angler with the raspy voice and booming laugh could pull lunkers from the depths with the ease most folks pull on a pair of socks.

Pig-and-jigs. That was his weapon of choice.

"You know what I think of live bait," he used to growl in a tone tough enough to make even the biggest nightcrawler slither back into a hole.

Duke and his cohorts, Joe Butta and Clem Luberecki, used to positively terrorize those fish -- smallmouth, largemouth, didn't matter.

On several occasions, In-Fisherman and Bassmaster magazines published photos of Duke's really big catches, fish the size of meat platters. In the summer of 2000, he hit the trifecta: a 7-pound smallie, a 7.5-pounder and his personal best, an 8-pounder 25 inches long with a girth of 18.5 inches.

His secret? Duke knew Prettyboy's contours -- the humps and bumps, as he called them -- like he knew his backyard, maybe better.

During a drought many years ago, Duke photographed the exposed areas, then transferred the information onto topographical maps. He could lock onto every fish-holding stone foundation and roadbed.

Yup, good old-fashioned reconnaissance. Well, that and fishing 47 of his 65 years on Prettyboy -- coincidentally the same number of years as he was married to Loretta. They lived in Shrewsbury, Pa., just over the state line.

When the drought of 2002 rolled around and Prettyboy was dropping six inches a day, Duke became a human lighthouse, warning boaters of partially submerged rocks and shoreline muck that could tear the wheels off a trailer.

He was that kind of guy.

"He had time to do those things," Gracie said. "Thank goodness he retired early."

Before he retired 15 years ago from the General Motors plant on Broening Highway, he was an active sportsman. Afterward, it became his second career.

With Luberecki, Jim Scarborough and Don Roberts, Duke formed the Maryland B.A.S.S. Federation in the mid-1970s to promote ethical fishing and better-run tournaments.

After Baltimore officials abruptly closed Prettyboy, Loch Raven and Liberty reservoirs in 1992 to fishing to stop the spread of the invasive zebra mussels, the same fishermen founded MARC.

Within a year, the group and city officials crafted a plan to keep the waters safe and allow boaters back.

Duke turned his attention to other things he thought needed fixing. He couldn't stand do-nothing officials, idiotic rules or hardheads who wouldn't compromise. If something seemed to get better all by itself, it was safe to bet he was involved.

When recreational and commercial anglers on the Ad Hoc Striped Bass Advisory Commission sat down after the five-year moratorium to work out the details of the fishing season (the third rail of fish politics), Duke calmed the waters.

"It was his social skills," said Howard King, who heads the Department of Natural Resources' fisheries service. "He treated everyone fairly and he could always disarm you with his charm."

"Duke was a coalition builder," Novotny said. "He was always in the background, being a peacemaker."

Sarah Taylor-Rogers, former DNR secretary, said she valued his advice.

"He was someone who would not posture. His word was good," she said. "He would always end by saying, `If there's anything you can do to help us, I'd appreciate it.' I liked that style."

Two political junkies, Duke and I traded calls often about the goings-on in Maryland government. I can report now that he gave as good as he got.

"Make them accountable," he counseled me about my dealings with DNR and State House types. "They want those jobs. Make them work to keep them."

He cheered me up after nasty e-mails and scolded me when he thought I was coasting or being too easy on someone. He got me to see things from another angle and sometimes I returned the favor.

Every so often, a snapshot would arrive in the mail of Duke posing with his latest monster from the deep. I taped one to the fridge for inspiration on days when the strong pull of a still-warm bed at 4:30 a.m. threatens to derail a fishing trip.

Most guests figured the smiling man in the picture was a relative. In many ways, they guessed right.

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