THE ALLEGED enticement of "free" lectures always reminds me of the opening of Annie Hall, in which Woody Allen starts with a joke:
"Two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort and one of 'em says: `Boy, the food in this place is really terrible.' The other one says: `Yeah, I know. And such small portions.' "
Free, of course, is only as good as the quality of what's being offered.
In the case of the Maryland Chapter of Trout Unlimited's Tuesday meeting, the free offer involves priceless tips from Lefty Kreh, one of the country's premier fly fishing experts and authors.
Often, a guest speaker gives generic advice for "insert your stream here," which may or may not match conditions found locally.
But Kreh, a Maryland native and former outdoors editor of this newspaper, considers the Gunpowder River and the Chesapeake Bay his home waters. If he suggests you do something, chances are it's because it has worked for him a gazillion times.
The 80-year-old Jedi master was the outdoors editor of The Sun back when Baltimore had multiple newspapers. He made his name, however, as a lecturer, author of two dozen books and teacher of thousands.
His accomplishments have earned him a spot in three fishing halls of fame and enough awards for a dozen trophy rooms, not that his Cockeysville home has a single one.
This visit to the Maryland Chapter of Trout Unlimited brings Kreh full circle. He helped the local group grow from its early days in 1971 to its present membership of more than 700.
Kreh will speak at 7:30 p.m. The meeting will be at the Sheppard Pratt Conference Center in Towson. Take the Baltimore Beltway (I-695) to Exit 25 and head south on Charles Street. The entrance to the Sheppard Pratt campus is 2 1/2 miles south on the left through the stone gatehouse.
Did I mention it's free?
A second helping of free is being served by the Potomac-Patuxent Chapter of Trout Unlimited on Sept. 21. And like the first helping, it's all quality.
Ken Pavol, the guiding hand and spirit in the restoration of the trout waters of the North Branch of the Potomac River, will discuss fishing tactics on that tributary.
Pavol retired this spring after 31 years as a fisheries biologist with the Department of Natural Resources. During his tenure, he championed catch-and-release regulations for the North Branch, the Savage and the Youghiogheny rivers. He urged the state to clean up the polluted waterways and create tourism destinations.
He also gave me my first big laugh on this job when he locked his keys in his truck miles from anywhere while we watched the trout stocking operation on the Potomac River. Luckily, the stocking truck gave us a ride to civilization.
As a leader of the Western Maryland Professional Guides Association, he is bringing the same energy, passion and knowledge to his second career as he did the first one.
Pavol's talk will be at 7 p.m. at the Schweinhaut Senior Center in Silver Spring. Take the Capital Beltway (I-495) west to Exit 31 north. Take Georgia Avenue to the first light and turn right onto Forest Glen Road. The center is past Holy Cross Hospital on the right.
Check on croakers
If stripers are the favorite catch of Chesapeake Bay fishermen, croaker are certainly in the running for the No. 2 slot.
There are plenty of them, they are fun to catch and they taste good.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission would like it to stay that way. The commission is readying a management plan to keep the croaker croaking (or maybe to keep the croaker from croaking) for decades to come.
As the local steward of croaker, the fisheries service of the Department of Natural Resources is holding a hearing on the proposal Sept. 26 in Annapolis.
The most recent survey of the total stock in 2002 indicates a population of 787 million fish, with a healthy number of young of year fish.
The bulk of the recreational catch is centered on the states of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, with more than two-thirds of the fish by number and weight going to Virginia over the last decade. In an average year, fishermen haul in nearly 11 million fish.
Although some states have set size and creel limits, the commission has not. In 1997, Maryland raised the recreational creel limit from 20 9-inch fish to 25 9-inch fish.
"The public is used to seeing a management plan for striped bass and weakfish. This is similar to those plans," said Harry Rickabaugh, DNR's representative on the board that drafted the croaker proposal.
"The commission can't easily take action to protect or restore [a population] without a management plan in place."
ASMFC could decide to maintain the status quo in the management plan, called Draft Amendment 1. Or it could decide to set targets for mortality rate and spawning stock biomass to prevent overfishing.
"Public participation is important because what goes into these plans is often what the public desires," Rickabaugh said.