Conowingo brings back a flood of memories

July 02, 2006|By CANDUS THOMSON

Harley Speir, a state fisheries biologist, remembers what the Conowingo Dam looked like when Agnes left her calling card 34 years ago.

"There was an enormous roar that shook the air," he says. "There was a mist rising off the [Susquehanna] River that billowed out like Niagara Falls."

Sightseers near the dam got a smaller dose of that Friday, when the peak floodwaters gushed through the crest gates, carrying mud, garbage and debris toward the Chesapeake Bay.

Conventional wisdom is to head south, away from the source. But a look at the NASA satellite image brings to mind that old Martha and the Vandellas hit, "Nowhere to Run."

If you want to see what the Chesapeake Bay looks like when the Susquehanna, Patapsco, Patuxent and Potomac rivers all cut loose with mud and silt, go to this Web site: earthobservatory-, and click on the map icon for our region.

Quite the sight.

Read the fine print

They already had the money spent as they motored back to the Kent Island dock: $25,000 split eight ways, $3,000 and change.

Except for one thing. The tagged fish they caught, released as part of the state's "$1 Million Fishing Challenge," was as dated as a carton of milk at elementary school recess.

Frank Hendricks of Monkton caught the neon-green tagged striped bass aboard Capt. Chris Rosendale's Maverick. First Mate Andrew Aus, 14, netted the fish and brought it over the side.

"I knew when I saw it come up that it was a money fish," says Rosendale, who has been working the bay for 31 years.

They tried raising the Department of Natural Resources by calling the number on the tag. No one answered.

Andrew called his dad, who went online and read up on "Diamond Jim," the nickname of the tagged fish. When he reported back to his son, folks on Rosendale's boat started getting excited.

They called a biologist at DNR's Matapeake office, who also thought they had a winner.

"We were spending the money. Andrew was going to buy an old Mako and fix it up," says Rosendale of his mate's dream boat. "I had my doubts because I've heard of things backfiring before, but then I got excited, too."

For Hendricks, a retired horse trainer, it was like a daily double - a winning mount and bay bragging rights.

It all came crashing down when a biologist arrived dockside and confirmed that Tag No. 0008 made the 36-inch striper a Diamond Jim fish, but noted that the tag expired six days earlier.

Still, Hendricks is eligible for the contest's grand prizes: a chance at $1 million cash, a 20-foot center console motorboat and trailer, a bass boat and trailer, or one of two 4-by-4 pickup trucks.

"It was a letdown," Rosendale acknowledges. "We went from catching Diamond Jim to catching Cubic Zirconium Clyde."

Define this, please

If Webster fumbled around looking for definitions the way the DNR Wildlife and Heritage Service is doing these days, the dictionary would stop at "B."

At issue is a 20-year-old state-sanctioned program that allows Eastern Shore waterfowlers and guides to raise and release mallards for their clients to shoot. I'm sure there's a fancier way to say it, but that's what Regulated Shooting Areas (RSAs) are.

The practitioners want the state to come up with a definition of "live decoys" since it is illegal to use pen-raised birds on the ground to entice wild flocks overhead to join them.

But just what constitutes a "live decoy" is a question that DNR, Natural Resources Police and waterfowlers have been fumbling since John Griffin was the agency's secretary. A recent meeting of the Wildlife Advisory Commission failed to rattle any cages.

Since the early 1980s, Eastern Shore waterfowlers and guides have been raising and releasing mallards for the purpose of improving hunting opportunities. For these folks - they number slightly more than 100 - RSAs work better than the old state program that released six-week-old pen-raised ducks for hunters to shoot.

Today, RSAs encompass about 7,000 acres and have resulted in the release of more than 2.6 million mallards.

But although the Wildlife and Heritage Service and the Natural Resources Police honchos sit in the same building, they can't seem to sit down together. And their bosses aren't making them do it, either.

Not fixing this problem now could be costly come January. Dollars to doughnuts, the legislature will stick its fingers in the pot, and my guess is there will be an attempt to outlaw RSAs - the Eastern Shore be damned.

As the South Carolina Waterfowl Association Web site says: "The system [RSAs] has an Achilles' heel so far as the most ethical sportsmen are concerned. ... A duck should be wary and want to escape when it sees me. If it doesn't behave that way, it's not a fair-chase proposition. While a majority of RSA mallards meet the fair-chase standard, not all do. And it only takes one tame bird to ruin the esthetics of the hunt."

Or a bunch of bureaucrats.

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