- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 15, 2001

The news that a popular Potomac River tributary's boat launching ramp and adjacent parking lot will no longer welcome bass fishing tournaments starting Sept. 1 should be a wakeup call for competition anglers everywhere.

The people in charge of the free, public Friendship Landing Road boat ramp on Southern Maryland's tidal Nanjemoy Creek have had enough of citizens' complaints concerning lack of access and the occasional boorish behavior displayed by bass boaters during various angling contests that are conducted by local and out-of-state groups.

"A point was reached where something had to be done," says Tom Roland, director of Charles County's parks and green spaces. Among his many duties is the oversight of several excellent boat launching facilities.

Before charges are made that Roland is a county government control freak, think again. The lifelong Southern Marylander owns a bass boat, has participated in numerous fishing contests and can sling a lure with the best of them.

"But when local residents want to take their kids fishing in the Nanjemoy Creek and they can't find a parking spot or launch their boat because a New Jersey or Virginia fishing club is conducting a bass tournament, you can guess what happens next," says Roland. "The complaints begin."

Roland says the biggest problem has been the number of tow vehicles and trailers owned by tournament participants that sometimes take up every space in the parking lot and subsequently are seen parked up and down the narrow access road, clogging traffic and forcing local citizens to alter their recreational plans.

As concerns rude behavior certainly not the sole province of competition anglers enough of it occurs among them that it's being noticed. Not long ago when I drove to the Friendship Landing facility to shoot random photos of fishermen and their catches, a bass club from the Baltimore area had taken up most of the parking spaces during a tournament. As the members returned at day's end to weigh their catches, I heard a number of unkind remarks by the boaters when they approached the launch ramp.

One particularly profane response to a pier fisherman came when the man simply asked whether his fishing line and bait rig that was still out in the water was bothering the boater coming to the pier. "What the [deleted] do you think? Get it the [deleted] out of my way!" shouted the tournament angler.

The boater knew there was safety in numbers. More than a dozen of his fellow club members were around, and the pier angler was alone. Had the reverse been true, the response might have been sugar-sweet.

During a large national tournament on the Potomac, a local bass guide and his two clients were approached on the water by a well-known former bass fishing world champion who asked if he couldn't fish somewhere else because, as he put it, "This is the water I've been practicing in and I need it if I'm going to do well."

The guide reminded the touring pro that he wasn't all that fond of cast-for-cash events and harsh words were exchanged. In fact, the pro threatened bodily harm but changed his mind when the guide appeared to be willing to risk it.

In other instances, local and out-of-town tournament anglers have approached everyday recreational boaters to let them know that they occupied the contestants' water. (Apparently, when they practice in a certain spot, find bass, let them go, then return when the competition begins, they are of the belief that it is "their" water for the duration of the contest.)

The popularity of bass fishing tournaments, thanks to international "fishing clubs" like the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society and various Operation Bass groups, goes unquestioned even though the sheer number of non-tournament anglers outweighs the participants by a monstrously huge margin. The BASS organization boasts 700,000 members, but there are 32 million people in the United States who fish exclusively for bass. Why haven't they joined BASS?

Organized bass fishing is mildly comparable to auto racing. How many drivers are there throughout the U.S. and how, for instance, does the number of NASCAR circuit drivers compare to them? The question answers itself. Around here the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society's Maryland BASS Chapter State Federation is made up of approximately 1,200 members. At one time or another, all of them are involved in competition fishing, which is OK if that's what they want to do. But how does the 1,200-member number compare to the rest of the state's bass anglers?

It's no contest. A huge majority of bass anglers and fishermen who seek other species do not belong to this or any other organization, thus does not feel any kinship to such groups and objects when they speak in their behalf.

The point simply is: Should public water access occasionally be granted exclusively to tournament fishing groups, some of whom earn considerable amounts of money from a public resource but along the way also perk up the cash registers of local motels, restaurants, gas stations, etc.?

There's a quiet war under way between those who support tournament fishing and those who object to it on purely aesthetic grounds or because so many cast-for-cash people possess an inadequate reservoir of good manners.

One thing is certain: If the pressure on public facilities intended for all, not just a select few increases, more off-limits signs will greet tournament anglers in years to come.

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