Reservoir openings beat the crocuses

March 05, 2006|By CANDUS THOMAS

How close is spring?

By the calendar, two weeks. But for those of us desperate to reclaim the water and woods from winter's bite, there are other stirrings in the atmosphere that point to spring.

One of the earliest indicators kicked in Wednesday with the opening of Liberty and Prettyboy reservoirs to boat fishermen.

The plane that brought me home from the Olympics last week flew right over both reservoirs at about 10,000 feet. Even at that height, I swear I saw a bobbing boat or two, probably eager anglers checking out their favorite spots.

The Baltimore Public Works Department, the steward of the water supply, will open its third reservoir - Loch Raven - on April 1. The fishing center on Dulaney Valley Road will open April 7.

While inflatable and gas-powered boats remain on the no-no list, anglers can use kayaks and rowers can use shells on all three bodies of water.

The addition of rowing shells is a one-year trial, says DPW's Gene Scarpulla. Barring an unforeseen problem, city officials most likely will make them a permanent addition.

As for the threat of invasive zebra mussels getting into the water system because of careless boaters, Scarpulla says, "We trust that people will be honest when they sign the affidavit saying they won't use their craft in another body of water."

Here's hoping no one betrays that trust. The penalty for dishonesty, in this case, is a financial and ecological headache that will never go away.

Thankfully, the cost of a season boating pass remains at mid-1990s prices: $50.

Another sign of spring is when the Department of Natural Resources announces the particulars of the trophy striped bass season.

The glacial pace of the federal approval process always creates a little drama. This year, however, the tension was a little higher because Maryland anglers were too successful, at least according to the numbers gathered by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Recreational catches far exceeded the limit set by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. States are required to make up the difference the next year by shortening the season, reducing the creel limit or raising the minimum size.

Maryland officials, led by fisheries chief Howard King, believe the NMFS figures are wrong, but realized that with the clock running, it was a debate for another time. Instead, they successfully argued for a trophy season that runs from April 15 to May 15, with a minimum size limit of 33 inches - 5 more inches than last season.

From May 15 on, anglers have a daily two-fish limit with an 18-inch minimum; only one fish can exceed 28 inches.

DNR's Mike Slattery says the agency will continue to lobby for a return to the 28-inch minimum May 8, but he acknowledges it's a long shot.

More importantly, though, the federal penalty has state officials redoubling their efforts to establish a better database on the catch-and-release fishery to refute the NMFS numbers.

It's safe to say that the number of people who question the way NMFS counts fish could fill M&T Bank Stadium and Camden Yards.

Over the years, Maryland has compiled one of the best databases of fishing statistics on the East Coast because recreational anglers have voluntarily reported their catches.

If it's a question of Maryland's numbers or NMFS's fuzzy math, put me down for the home team.

Putting on brakes

The latest buzz in Annapolis is that DNR is ready to hand over control of Chapel Point State Park - prime waterfowl hunting grounds - to the commissioners of Charles County for use as a local recreation area.

It looked like a bad deal for sportsmen. Even worse, it looked like a done deal.

DNR sent letters to the commissioners and the county's Annapolis lawmakers asking them whether they'd like to take over better than half of the 600-acre park, which has seven hunting blinds just off the Potomac River and a small hunting area for the handicapped.

Naturally, the Charles County officials were delighted to be offered a $10 million waterfront parcel for free, and communicated their happiness back to DNR's Gene Piotrowski, among others.

Given Charles County's track record on public hunting matters, it's safe to say that had the transfer happened, hunting opportunities would have been eliminated.

Hunting groups, such as the Maryland Waterfowlers Association, got wind of the matter and started poking around. Someone noticed a small problem: The state had spent more than $150,000 in federal money and state license fees sprucing the place up. Unless Charles County repaid the government, the deal was off.

But that's hardly a roadblock when you do the math. A $10 million hunk of waterfront property for $150,000. Such a deal!

Hold on, says Slattery, the voice of reason in all this.

"People are seeing a train running down the track, and it's not," he says. "This is a work in progress. Why would we give this land away after spending all this effort developing it?"

Luckily, it seems, cooler heads have prevailed for the time being.

"If they want to pursue this," Slattery says of Charles County officials, "and they indicate they will not continue the hunting opportunities, then we're not going to turn this over to them."

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