Rock bass state record? He got it from his father


March 21, 2010|By Candus Thomson |

At 31⁄2 years old, Earl Jenkins IV likes to imitate his dad. And if that means setting a state fishing record — the one claimed by his father not quite a year ago — sorry, old man. The Thurmont youngster is an accomplished angler, reeling in his first smallmouth bass last summer and fishing with Earl Jenkins III every chance he gets.

On Wednesday, he made the Maryland rock bass record his own. The two Jenkins men were at a favorite fishing hole, a farm pond near their home where the senior Jenkins caught his record fish. The young angler was casting a small chartreuse grub with his ultra-light spinning combo when he felt the strike.

Although young Earl usually gets pumped when he has a fish on, he coolly cranked in the rock bass weighing 1 pound, 8 ounces and measuring 12 inches long.

They put the fish in an ice chest and raced home. There, dad transferred the pending state record to the live well of his boat parked in the yard and checked the water temperature and aeration all night to ensure the fish's well-being.

The next morning, father and son hooked up the boat and drove to Bass Pro Shop at Arundel Mills, where the fish is being kept in quarantine until aquarist Eric Lambert deems it safe to be released into the 23,000-gallon aquarium. It would be the store's first rock bass.

"All indications are it's doing OK," reports store manager Aaron Frazier. "Those anglers really took care of that fish. They were really thinking conservation. As aresult, it will be able to live out its life right here."

Earl's rock bass is the first state record setter of 2010. Seven marks fell last year. For the record, Earl III's rock bass, caught April 20, weighed 1 pound, 4.1 ounces.

Left floundering The state is reconsidering its unpopular decision on summer flounder regulations after a week when the fish really hit the fan. "We're willing to admit a mistake," Fisheries Service chief Tom O'Connell said in a phone interview. "I have put everything on hold and am reassessing the situation."

If only federal regulators — in whose laps this mess belongs — were as humble, then and now. There's nothing like late fall fishing. An Indian summer day with no crowds. The crisp air whisking away every memory of the ugly muggys of summer. The golden light of autumn making everything glow.

That's what the people of Ocean City had in mind in January when they overwhelmingly asked state fisheries managers to approve a flounder season that traded a half-inch of minimum size for a few more days of fall fishing.

It seemed like a reasonable request: three-fish daily creel; minimum size, 19 inches; season from April 17 to Nov. 22. The proposal would have reduced Maryland's catch from last year by 24.2 percent, meeting the cutback required by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

But when a draft of the regulation circulated Thursday, folks on the coast were angry and baffled. From April 24 through Sept. 24, Chesapeake Bay and coastal anglers would be permitted to keep three fish each day, 181⁄2 inches minimum, resulting in a 24.5 percent catch reduction.

Anglers and tackle shop owners wondered why their opinion was sought and then ignored, especially when the difference between the two versions is .3 percent and since both were approved by ASMFC to meet the quota of 75,000 fish.

"I've seen a lot of questionable management decisions, but this may be the worst," says Capt. Monty Hawkins, who runs a party boat out of Ocean City and is a prime mover in the effort to build artificial reefs.

It also raises another question: Why do federal regulators insist that state fisheries managers abide by the Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistical Survey, a census method that was never meant to do the job it's doing, has been widely discredited by the scientific community and is being replaced as we speak.

For example, Hawkins notes, in September and October 2007, recreational anglers fishing from shore were estimated to have caught 36,017 flounder while charter boats and party boats were estimated to have caught fewer than 3,000 flounder.

"Anglers on shore caught what we catch in 15 years? How is that plausible?" he asks. O'Connell pauses before answering: "I don't know what to say. It doesn't seem possible that it can be possible. ... We've talked to MRFSS about their flounder numbers before."

The Fisheries Service boss acknowledges that while immersed in the sticky details of the state budget and oyster restoration efforts, "I did not fully grasp the amount of opposition" to the flounder plan he endorsed.

But it's not all the fault of O'Connell or his staff. The contractor who prepares the MRFSS numbers missed deadlines. As a result, Maryland's process was rushed and public input was minimized. The new regulations will have to be enacted as an emergency measure.

Most other states have set their regulations.

Delaware is having a public hearing Tuesday on four options with minimumsize limits ranging from 18.5 to 19 inches and with creel limits that range from two to four fish. Two options include an open season.

Meanwhile, O'Connell is in Ocean City this weekend, patching things up with the recreational community as he readies new regulations for release as early as Monday.

"I'm cautiously optimistic that we will have a better situation than we were about to go with," he says.

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