Highlight reel: Glen Arm man hauls in 53-inch-long striped bass


April 05, 2009|By CANDUS THOMSON

George Miller is a double threat. On March 27, he caught and released the striped bass that accompanies this column.

A few days later, he caught a 6-pound, 24-inch rainbow trout at the Daniels area of Patapsco Valley State Park.

Not too shabby.

Needless to say, with two weeks to go before the start of the spring striped bass season, the big fish are in. Nice how that works, huh?

There are already reports of fish just below the 50-inch mark being caught at all the usual spots. Miller, who lives in Glen Arm and works at the McCormick plant in Hunt Valley, caught his fish just off Breezy Point while trolling a chartreuse-and-white parachute.

The morning started foggy, but when the sun burned off the mist, the fish were there to greet the day.

"She came off the planer board. I didn't know how big she was until she came to the boat," Miller says. "She wouldn't fit in the net - and it was a salmon net."

Fishing buddies Paul Szilvassy of Perry Hall and Stu Munsell of Lutherville acted as the pit crew, getting the fish aboard, taking measurements and pictures, and releasing it in about a minute. The fish was 53 inches long with a girth of 33 1/2 inches. The weight was estimated in excess of 60 pounds.

"I told my buddy, for the rest of the season, I'll go to the back of the boat and let everyone else fish," Miller says. "I don't think I can top that."

Stamp of approval

The pressure is unbearable. Which is just as well since the sources of my stress are 22 bears, all staring at me.

Bears moseying in a field. Bears pausing beside a lake. Cubs nuzzling mama bear. Even one bruin in full snarl, practically showing his tonsils.

I have seen bears up close, alive and dead. Armed with that questionable skill set and the desire to learn how state conservation stamps are born, I am a judge in the Black Bear Conservation Stamp Contest held at the National Wildlife Visitors Center in Laurel. Assignment: Help select the best bear drawing from the 22 entries.

The Black Bear Stamp, sold by the state, has raised more than $100,000 to compensate farmers whose crops have been torn up by bears. A stamp costs $5, but contributions in excess of that are gratefully accepted.

My judicial colleagues are Bob Beyer and Harry Spiker, two wildlife biologists who also flunked Matchbook Extension University's "Draw this president and win a scholarship" promotion. With his Boy Scout looks, Spiker appears beyond reproach. Beyer, tall, trim and white-haired, has that professorial thing going.

Me? Call me Boo Boo Bear. Contest coordinator Doug Wigfield is going over our responsibilities, which seem immense and make my head swim. There are three rounds of judging. The first cuts the field to a manageable number. The next two winnow the finalists until there's a winner.

But here's the "Uh-oh, Yogi" moment: The judges can't talk to one another and compare notes. And some of the artists are sitting just behind us, searching for signs of incompetence.

We study the pictures. Some of the bears are anatomically incorrect. Some are in the wrong habitat. One looks like my Uncle Bill.

For the artists, there's clearly no victory button to push. In the 13 years of competition, only one contestant, Steve Oliver of Brookhaven, Pa., has won multiple times: in 2000, 2003 and 2007.

With simple pencil marks on score cards, the field is reduced from 22 to six. Uncle Bill doesn't make the cut.

Round 2 is more public. We must hold up cards with big black numbers on them, 1-6, to judge the quality of the remaining entries. Hoping not to hurt feelings, I pull my punches and leave the "1" card on the table. As a result, the field stays the same.

Wigfield calls for Round 3. This time, I bear down and raise card "1" and then a "2" for another entry.

We arrive at a winner: Patrick Sharbaugh, a Penn State designer who lives in the heart of bear country in Spring Mills, Pa.

Turns out, his painting of a bear and her two cubs was the one we all liked the minute we saw it.

"I usually start scribbling and doodling around for the concept, then go to reference materials to get the detail right," says Sharbaugh, a hunter and woodsman. "The composition, though, comes from the heart."

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