Constituents need to hook these fish

April 01, 2007|By CANDUS THOMSON

Admiring a trout caught yesterday on the unofficial opening day of the season, I was struck by the resemblance to certain members of Maryland's Senate.

They have their mouths open and nothing comes out.

It was a beautiful morning to knock the rust off fishing skills, and thousands of anglers did so, from the Gunpowder River to Severn Run to Northwest Branch. Lots of folks stumbled out of bed in darkness to be streamside at the 5:30 a.m. start of the so-called "put-and-take" trout season. (Using trout stamp money, the state puts hatchery-raised fish in waterways and anglers who paid the fee take them out. Talk about an effective program.)

But while watching freshwater fans do their thing, I couldn't help but think about their tidal water counterparts awaiting the April 21 opening of rockfish season. Simply put, they may be hosed by the Senate and don't even know it.

Well, it's time to knock some sense into them before it's too late.

Anglers, conservation groups and corporations have dug into their pockets to raise money for the Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative (MARI) that will build fish habitats in the Chesapeake Bay and perhaps later in the ocean.

Time is of the essence. Clean construction debris - concrete slabs and steel supports - from the old Woodrow Wilson Bridge is piling up. It can either be trucked to a landfill or hauled by barge down the Potomac River and dumped in the bay at sites selected by biologists and fishing experts.

Getting 1 ton of construction debris from the Potomac construction site to the bay costs $20 a ton. Managers at the Fisheries Service of the Department of Natural Resources dug deep last year and came up with $40,000 in seed money to prime the pump.

Organizations such as Coastal Conservation Association Maryland and the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association pitched in by raising money and taking donations. In less than six months, nearly $500,000 has rolled in from regular folks and big corporations.

"This is the people's project," said DNR biologist Marty Gary, who has worked tirelessly on this for more than a year.

To keep a steady stream of material moving down the river toward the bay, anglers asked the state - through the Maryland Legislative Sportsmen's Caucus - to sell a $1 million bond. That's a lot to you and me, but to the state Legislature, $1 million "wouldn't even fill a tooth," as my grandmother used to say.

And while $1 million may seem fair to you and me, the House halved the amount. The Senate halved it again. Now the bond bill sits in the Capital Budget subcommittee, where members of both houses will pick a number.

Recreational anglers need to say loud and clear that it should be the House's $500,000 rather than the Senate's $250,000.

You see, when the cameras are rolling every lawmaker says the bay is a treasure to be protected and restored.

They all say they want to leave the bay in good shape for future generations.

But when the spotlight is off, lawmakers - especially, it seems, in the Senate - become netted trout with mouths moving and nothing coming out.

Who do they think they're kidding?

Not you. Not now.

You know there's no such thing as a healthy bay without fish. You know that given the wretched condition of Chesapeake waters, fish need every possible break and that includes habitat.

Without abundant fish, charter boat captains, watermen, tackle shops and marinas will all suffer. That's why all those groups favor MARI.

Obviously, members of the subcommittee need a little educating.

You can fuss around on the legislative Web site to find the right folks, but the conservation association has made a system that will allow you to be heard with the click of a mouse.

Go to www.ccamd.org, click on the logo marked "Grassroots Action Center," then click on the third listing, "Support public funding" for MARI. Fill out the form and send it off.

But back to the thing that got me on this tear: trout.

It was good to see kids out with parents. Old friends getting together at "their spot," just as they do every March.

Along the Northwest Branch in Prince George's County yesterday, I met anglers who fit both categories: Darrell Reich, his son, Alex; Alex's good friend Justin Lee; and family friend Karen Olson.

They spent the last couple of days buying licenses and replenishing the gear pile before arriving at the water's edge at 6:45 a.m.

Pretty soon, they were whooping and laughing as they reeled in fish, one after another. Most they tossed back "to get bigger." Some they shared with less lucky anglers nearby, and others they kept for dinner.

Olson, a nurse at Children's Hospital in Washington, said she hadn't fished in about five years, but was bitten by the bug again during the shopping spree. Decked out in brand-new everything, she caught and released trout after trout - even after her new rod snapped a tip.

Natural Resources police Cpl. JoAnn Berisford and Reserve Officer Carl Moore stopped by on patrol for poachers, checked creels and swapped stories.

The boys managed to make a bird's nest of their lines several times. But Justin, dreadlocks bopping away, hauled in a nice fish, his first in many years.

"I am the Jimi Hendrix of fishing," Justin said. "One great guitarist. One great fisherman."

A smiling Darrell Reich replied: "A real fish. No more lies. We made an honest man of you this morning."

And, if we're lucky, a lifelong fisherman.

candy.thomson@baltsun.com

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