- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 23, 2003

HILLTOP, Md.
Without question, spring has sprung. Oh yes.
It doesn't matter if one of our local weather forecasting ninnies predicts yet another snowstorm; I have proof positive that spring is here.
It started with the launching of my bass boat in the Nanjemoy Creek in Charles County, where I live. Normally, the regular winter anglers and onlookers who come to the Friendship Road Landing that I visit all through the cold months, sometimes in rain and snow, are a quiet lot not given to illuminating conversation. But there I was, with a Maryland Natural Resources policeman joining me at the launch to chat about the perch that should be making a strong run into the creek's upper shallows.
We also talked about a lack of the fish at the not too distant Allen's Fresh on the Wicomico River, and he said he'd look into complaints that a waterman might have strung a net across the entire creek somewhere below the spawning waters of the Fresh. That would surely keep the perch from completing their ancient reproductive ritual.
Of course, another reason for the absence of fish down there might be the ongoing leaching of a power plant's fly ash that is stored close to the headwaters of the Wicomico. With all the snow and rain we've had, surely some of the stuff is bound to get into the river and raise the acid level. That's not good news for fish, fowl or human.
The game warden eventually bade farewell. Winter regular Red Liverman and his dog, Henry, came down the launch road. A nearby angler hollered, "Don't catch 'em all," and laughed as I slipped the boat into the creek and tied it to a dock railing. After parking the truck, I soon idled slowly upstream when a certain sign of spring appeared: an osprey, flying to and fro, unsure of where to go. The spring migrant finally alighted in a tall sycamore, screeching loudly, obviously worrying.
The reason for the sea bird's concern? A half dozen bald eagles cruised above, higher than a Piper Cub airplane would dare fly.
Ospreys and bald eagles are eternal enemies. They simply can't stand each other. Of course, when you figure that both species are after the same food fish you can understand why the competition becomes so heated that it occasionally grows into aerial fisticuffs. If it involves one eagle vs. a single osprey, the osprey loses. But there are times when a lone bald eagle is harassed by several ospreys, with the white-headed beauty eventually retreating.
An osprey's dislike of eagles also might have something to do with the eagle's rude habit of stealing the juicy prey held in the talons of the smaller fish hunter. Eagles can be bullies of the first order. I've seen them actually slam into an osprey, with the victim so shaken that it dropped its prize and the eagle simply picked it from the water's surface.
Onward.
The boat was steered farther up into the tidal creek and stopped at a place that held a series of submerged Virginia pines, bleached trunks still resting ashore. Soon a largemouth bass fell for a soft, plastic imitation grub. It was good to see the 2-pounder.
Then out of nowhere, another boat approached. It was piloted by a fair weather bass angler, a fellow who never shows up when things are cold and tough. Yet if you ask him about bass, he'll react as if he wrote a how-to book about fishing. He went past me, and moments later another bass sucked in the grub. Many more would come in the weeks and months ahead.
Just above the sunken wood, along a marshy shoreline and hundreds of yards of shallow water, at least five great blue herons stood in the creek, intently staring at the water.
Occasionally, one of them would stab downward with its long, pointed bill and come up with a small white perch, a bluegill, or maybe a fat minnow. If successful in holding onto the fish, it would elegantly lift one leg, then another, and quietly walk away from the rest to flip its prize into swallowing position, let it slide down into the throat, then shake it ever farther down with nod-like movements of its plumed head. Gosh, what I would give to know as much about fishing as a heron knows.
Incidentally, the herons are here to build nests, incubate eggs and have their young. That, too, is a sure sign of spring.
Across the creek, high up in an old oak, there was an eagle's nest, an aerie. Did I see a head popping over the edge or was I hallucinating? It could be that it was an eaglet, or mama still sitting on her eggs. We do know that among the local birds, it's the bald eagles who are the first to mate and have their young. We witnessed their aerial mating flights as early as February.
The final sure sign of spring was the presence in the upper creek of Pat Capps and Ed Meadows, two stalwarts who would go fishing in a blizzard. There they were as always, sitting in a small johnboat, catching a handful of yellow perch near a place known as the Helwig Farm. How could those two hard-nosed anglers be harbingers of spring? They wore only two layers of camouflaged clothing instead of the customary three they have on in winter.
Yes, spring has sprung. In fact, when Pat and Ed quit wearing their wind and frost-shielding face masks, you know the warm season has begun.
Hallelujah!
Look for Gene Mueller's Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report every Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail:gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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