OPENING DAY of trout season was a good day for fishing.
Just not for catching.
Yesterday's season began as it always does, with anglers lining the banks of stocked streams long before dawn, sipping coffee, swapping lies and waiting for the magic 5:30 starting time.
"I feel like I should have a starter's pistol to fire off a round in the air," joked Bob Lunsford, a freshwater fisheries biologist for the Department of Natural Resources as he counted cars along Dicus Mill Road in Anne Arundel County.
Two dozen vehicles were wedged hood to trunk along a short stretch of the narrow road that cuts across Severn Run. Lunsford, who has conducted the statewide opening day census since 1992, said it was an average count but better than expected given the weather and the holiday weekend.
Even in the darkness, everyone knew the score. Heavy rains Wednesday and brief showers that soaked anglers' jackets as they waited made the streams look like a Marine's haircut - high and tight. As a matter of fact, the water wasn't just tight to the banks, it flowed over them in many spots.
But when you've been waiting all winter for a chance to wet a line (even though the rain did it first), and you know the stream has been stocked with 1,250 trout, little things like fast-moving, mocha-colored water are mere inconveniences.
"A bad day fishing is still better than a good day in the office. And hands down it beats doing chores," said Will Taylor, a recent Ohio transplant, who was trying to choose between Power Bait and a small spinner.
Further upstream, where Burns Crossing Road skirts Severn Run, nearly a dozen anglers stood huddled around a single pool, hoping a little less turbulence and turbidity might help them coax trout from the depths and onto their hooks. A short distance away, folks in lawn chairs, bundled up against the cold, sat on the banks, trading better fishing conditions for comfort.
Numbers also were down slightly at Owens Creek, just north of Thurmont, and Friends Creek, just west of Emmitsburg. The latter is a particular favorite of Pennsylvania Cub Scout packs that can't wait for opening day at home.
Conditions weren't much better at the Avalon area of Patapsco Valley State Park, where DNR stocked 2,250 trout, all more reclusive than Howard Hughes.
Thirty cars were waiting at the gate when volunteer rangers Peggy and Brad Hunt and Charlie Beusch and Brenda Klaunberg opened for business.
"We slept overnight in our car just to be ready," said Peggy Hunt.
By 7 a.m., 173 vehicles filled the Avalon parking areas and anglers with fly rods and spinning rods fanned out over the rushing water.
Although they would have enjoyed a little more taking from the put-and-take area, the two Donald Haskins - junior and senior - were pleased just to be in each other's company.
The younger Haskins, a 22-year veteran of the Baltimore City Police Department, prefers his fish in the bass category, but it's still a little early for them.
"I'd rather be out here fishing than just sitting around," he said, smiling.
His father taught him to fish 30 years ago, making the White Marsh resident a fourth-generation fisherman. Now, he spends his off hours as a bass guide and tournament fisherman.
The senior Haskins caught his first fish at Seven Foot Knoll Light, back when it guarded the mouth of the Patapsco River, and sharpened his skills reeling in crappie at Lake Montebello.
"I can't get away from the water," he said, chuckling.
As if on cue, a light mist began swirling in the air.
"None of us can, today," I answered.
Asian oysters on hold?
Are we seeing a sign from the Ehrlich administration that it might be giving up on a plan to put Asian oysters in the Chesapeake Bay?
It appears Pete Jensen may be stepping down from his job this summer as DNR's No. 3 man to take a slot on the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council. The Ehrlich administration's point man on Asian oysters would replace Ricks Savage, the current chairman and a nine-year council veteran from Berlin, who is term-limited.
Ehrlich's people are looking at three candidates, with Jensen topping the list. U.S. Commerce secretary Carlos Gutierrez has the final say on filling the quasi-government job.
However, if he gets the regulatory position, Jensen will have to relinquish his state job because Maryland already has one DNR council representative: fisheries director Howard King.
During the past several years, Jensen has worked in a Steinbrenner-esque world. In 2001, he was fired from his job as deputy fisheries director by the Glendening administration because of concerns he was too chummy with the watermen.
He was rehired by the Ehrlich administration to be DNR's No. 2 man, only to be crassly shoved out when the governor had to find a soft landing spot for Lynn Buhl, the rejected nominee for secretary of the Department of the Environment. Ehrlich's people then dusted Jensen off, gave him a new title and responsibility for the Asian oyster project.
Jensen was a stand-up guy when Ehrlich's staff was not. They owe him big time for not complaining publicly when he was treated like harbor dredge material.
The new job plays to Jensen's strengths as a consensus builder on regulatory matters. The council is one of eight regional boards that draft fisheries management for approval by the Commerce secretary. The Mid-Atlantic council consists of the seven Eastern Seaboard states from North Carolina to New York.
On the basis of his work on striped bass and flounder, he has gained the respect of his colleagues from other states, which reflects well on Maryland.
From a personal standpoint, the timing might be right. Jensen is approaching 70, his wife is retired and the couple has a second home in Florida. The Asian oyster deal has had a bull's-eye painted on it by state lawmakers and natural resources people in other states.
In the end, Jensen may be handed a pearl while the oyster gets deep-sixed.