Conowingo anglers wearing smiles

April 02, 2006|By CANDUS THOMSON

What could be better than word that the shad are running in the Susquehanna River?

Word that the Department of Natural Resources and Exelon Generation, the owner of the Conowingo Dam and shoreline below it, have worked out the details to provide greater access to Fisherman's Park on the Harford County side of the river and Octoraro Creek on the Cecil County side.

After months of negotiations and discussions with fishing groups, the state and utility have a plan that is likely to please both Homeland Security folks and the federal agency that oversees generating plants.

Anglers, hikers and birders lost access to the area below the dam after the terrorist attacks of 2001. When partial access was restored, it was subject to changes in the color-coded security threat levels.

"I may be optimistic, but this is a chance to restore the Fisherman's Park of old," says DNR's Marty Gary. "This is one of the biggest and best pieces of news for Maryland fishermen this year."

Exelon has offered to make about $1 million in improvements to the park, the sliver of green just below the dam. The utility will allow fishermen to use an area known as "The Beach" and will modify park hours to accommodate different fishing seasons. Also included in the agreement - subject to federal approval - are a boardwalk and pier that will be accessible to the handicapped and reopening access to the pavilion and restrooms.

On the Cecil County side, plans are in the works for trails and a 20-car parking area to provide access to Octoraro Creek, a traditional hickory shad spawning area that was, until recently, blocked by a stone-and-timber dam about five miles upstream. State and federal agencies and citizens groups worked to remove the dam last October, which opened 20 miles of the creek to fish and people.

"Octoraro is a huge addition," Gary says. "I'm told the hickory shad fishing at Octoraro is superior to Deer Creek, with better access for wading and reaching shallow pools."

The agreement includes creation of a Web site to post a fishing report, flow rate and discharge information.

The construction phase will most likely be done in summer, during low-flow periods.

Maryland officials have made Octoraro part of their Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway Area. Planners envision hiking and biking trails that will link to the existing Mason-Dixon Trail network and stretch from Rising Sun to Havre de Grace.

Bentz a natural

When you've been a knucklehead, it's best to just 'fess up and take your lumps.

So as a member of Congress might do in a similar situation, please let me revise and extend last week's remarks on naming the new $400,000 fishing pier at Pasadena's Downs Park.

As writers and callers have pointed out, I inadvertently overlooked the best possible candidate for the honor. Of course, the 300-foot pier should be named for George Bentz, founder of the Pasadena Sportfishing Group and driving force behind getting the pier built.

A tireless activist for all things angling in the Anne Arundel community and beyond, Bentz somehow finds time to run the group's monthly meetings (which attract more than 150 people), organize the kids' fishing derby and pull together the state's best and biggest fishing flea market each February, even in the face of blizzard conditions.

Noticing that kids had no place to fish from the Chesapeake Bay shoreline at the 245-acre park, Bentz came up with the idea for the pier and then bird-dogged the project to completion.

When county executive Janet Owens dedicates the pier May 13, Bentz should be by her side with a big pair of scissors.

All that said, I'm not giving up on the thrust of my original, but slightly misguided, premise.

While Owens is still in the business of naming things as executive, she ought to consider naming one of the large pavilions or the unnamed main park building for Maryland outdoors writer emeritus Bill Burton, a Pasadena resident who has written about and been an advocate for recreational opportunities for more than half a century.

Who needs fish?

Dick Franyo has run his popular tournaments with fish. Now, he's going to try having one without fish.

Rockfish tournaments, a staple of spring fishing activities, will not be allowed during the trophy season this year because the state has to make a partial payment on taking too many big stripers from the bay during the 2005 trophy season.

That might be a problem for most tournament directors, but not Franyo.

The owner of the Boatyard Bar and Grill started an Eastport tradition five years ago when he hired a band, cooked up some good grub and threw the rockfish party and tournament in his parking lot.

On opening day, it was fun to stand on the restaurant's front porch and watch anglers struggle up side streets under the weight of massive stripers. Last year, Franyo signed up 152 boats holding more than 700 fishermen.

Unique to bay striper tournaments is the way Franyo commemorates each event. Every year, the bar owner pays an artist to come in and paint an outline of the largest fish along with the winner's name up in the Boatyard's rafters.

Faced with the prospect of a tournament without fish, Franyo changed the rules. Those who register will be given an official tournament measuring tape.

Catch a big one, measure it with the tape, snap a quick picture with a digital camera and release the fish. Then, bring your memory card or flash stick to the weigh-in. Judges will choose the winners based on the images.

The entry fee is $150 per boat. This year, there's a limit of 150 boats. Check for details.

Proceeds from the tournament go to the Annapolis Police Youth Fishing Camp, the Coastal Conservation Association and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

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