In one day, from Deep Creek Lake to the sands of Assateague, anglers fulfill a fishy fantasy -- and create a whopper of a tale.

August 14, 2005|By Candus Thomson | By Candus Thomson,SUN OUTDOORS WRITER

This is for all the anglers who sigh at the end of a fishing trip and say, "I wish this day could last forever."

It almost can.

Fishing across Maryland from sunrise to sunrise wrings out every last bit of the experience, presenting a diverse sampler of the state's angling opportunities, from swift-moving freshwater rivers to the tidal waters of the Chesapeake Bay.

A stunt? For sure. A challenge? Definitely. But we do it, as Everest climber George Mallory explained, "because it is there."

Besides, if you embrace a hobby steeped in bragging rights and tall tales, as fellow angler Angel Bolinger and I do, fishing across Maryland ranks as an original.

Bolinger and I are two of the 12 million U.S. women who fish. She is a Maryland Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist, and I keep an eye on the outdoors for The Sun.

Worm juice, broken rods and flying fish all had bit roles in our 24-hour adventure. But the starring role went to Maryland itself, with its 77 species of freshwater, tidal and saltwater fish.

We chose six spots, three west of the Chesapeake Bay and three on the eastern side, and lined up a cast of local experts to help us catch one legal-sized fish at each location before moving on. With a driving time of 11 hours, we knew we had 12 hours to fish and just 60 minutes for the finer things in life, like bathroom breaks and food.

Sun photographer Andre Chung and his 8-year-old son, Kian Kelley-Chung, joined us.

We awoke before dawn last month at our westernmost spot, and, fueled with caffeine from the motel coffee maker, we were off.

Deep Creek Lake

"It's the fishing divas," booms guide Brent Nelson, welcoming us to his home water, Deep Creek Lake.

Nelson is a bear-sized man who lives in Columbia and runs a graphic arts business. In his other, preferred life, he is a fishing guide.

As our first partner in "Fish Across Maryland," he is eager to get us fishing. "I've never had such pressure," he says, laughing while launching his boat.

To increase our chances of success, Bolinger and I split up. She goes with Nelson and Kian, while I stay dockside to fish with our secret weapon -- worms.

The fishing industry has spent billions of dollars trying to duplicate with metal and plastic what nature got right the first time. Bugs, worms and small water critters will almost always outperform stuff made by man.

At 6:30 a.m., the sounds of reveille dot the shoreline -- lights come on, dogs bark, cars start.

I watch my three partners casting to underwater grass beds and fallen trees, where fish like to hang out. A slight tug on my line draws my focus back to the dock, but it's too late. A fish has picked my bait clean.

I bait up again and notice that there are fish almost directly below my feet. Instead of casting, I drop the worm straight down and watch a bluegill dart in and grab it.

A minute later, with the fish on the dock, I reach for my two-way radio: "Diva 2, this is Diva 1, come on back. I've got one."

As we release the fish, Nelson talks about his favorite fishing hole.

"The menagerie of species is what makes Deep Creek great," he says. "You have everything from trout to bluegills to bass -- largemouth and smallmouth -- to crappie to pickerel to perch. There's something for everyone, especially kids."

Later at breakfast, our waitress makes a face when Chung announces: "I'm going to the bathroom to wash the worm juice off."

That was our first and last sit-down meal of the day.

Potomac River

A 90-minute drive east gets us to Williamsport, where DNR biologist John Mullican waits with his boat at the Potomac River launch ramp.

Bolinger and Kian go for a boat ride with Mullican. Me and my worms head for the shady banks of Conococheague Creek, which empties into the Potomac.

The rising heat and humidity are enough to poach a fish. The worm does its job, though, enticing a bluegill hybrid onto my hook. With my colleagues beyond radio range, I hike up the bank and fish the C&O Canal for good measure.

At noon, the bells of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church begin to play a hymn from my childhood. I slow my rhythm, cranking my reel to match the beat of "Come Thou Almighty King," and find to my surprise that I remember the lyrics. I try them out, singing softly as I catch and release small fish.

My friends return an hour later, fishless. Luckily, my small contribution keeps our streak alive.

Mullican talks about "the nation's river."

"If you soak a worm in the Potomac, you'll catch something. What makes this such a great fishery is it's so accessible and it can be fished year-round," he says. "It's 184 miles from Cumberland to Georgetown and there's boat ramps scattered along that length. It's popular for canoeists and kayakers, and you can fish from the banks."

Gunpowder Falls

We have to make an unscheduled stop. At Williamsport, I snapped a rod tip while trying to disengage my fishing rod from the car.

Bolinger and I duck into a big-box sporting goods store and emerge with an Ugly Stick, one of the planet's most indestructible rods.

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