- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 28, 2008

After recently observing the conduct and attitudes of certain out-of-state bass tournament fishermen who come in droves to test their skills on the tidal Potomac’s bass-rich waters, local angler Wayne Coates writes, “It looks like access to the parks that we paid for and are still paying for is coming to an end.”

Coates, himself a frequent participant in small local tournaments, is mystified by the open-arms policy the Maryland parks system has toward out-of-state, profit-making tournament organizations that are treated like visiting royalty while the state’s taxpayers, license buyers and boat registrants take a back seat.

For example, local residents who went to Smallwood State Park about 9 a.m. Sept. 20 to launch a boat could have done so, but finding a parking space for a tow vehicle and a boat trailer would have been next to impossible. The Charles County facility’s parking lot was crammed full with tournament anglers’ pickup trucks and trailers from West Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey, even one from Minnesota. Yes, there also were Virginia and Maryland tags to be seen - all of them part of the fishing contest.

The point is, a neighborhood dad who might have wanted to take his child onto the Mattawoman Creek, on whose shores the state park is located, could not have done so if he arrived with a boat and trailer. All the parking spots had been taken up.

Regarding a small contest not long ago, Coates said: “We were part of a local bass club that launched out of Slavins [ramp in Indian Head] at 6:30 a.m. on a recent Sunday because we couldn’t find a space Smallwood or Marshall Hall to park our boats and trailers due to all of these out-of-staters from Delaware and Pennsylvania. I was appalled and disgusted.”

Coates is not alone in his anger at visiting tournament fishermen. David Garner of Fairfax sent an e-mail that said: “I was fishing the back of the Mattawoman Creek in the 6 mph zone when a boat came running through on plane. One of the boaters waved at me, and I motioned to him to slow down. He then began waving at me with his middle finger. The boat had New Jersey numbers.”

I, too, have observed incidents of questionable behavior. On more than one occasion I’ve been on the Potomac or in one of its tributaries when an out-of-state bass boat would charge toward me, slow down in the nick of time, and then the boater would say: “Would you mind moving; you’re sitting in my spot where I caught bass during practice. I’m in a tournament.” It should be needless to say that I decline such requests. In fact, I might ask the new arrival to leave because I feel something nibbling on the end of my line, and I don’t have time for chitchat.

Charles County-based fishing guide Andy Andrzejewski once was threatened with bodily harm if he didn’t move his boat from a productive bass spot. Andrzejewski had two clients aboard. His antagonist was smart to retreat, however. Andrzejewski is a former Marine and a policeman who has known his share of trouble.

Meanwhile, local angler Coates recalled a large national bass tournament that was headquartered at Smallwood Park’s Sweden Point Marina. Coates and his brother had launched elsewhere and fished in several creeks when the wind kicked up and he had to find smoother water for his fishing.

“I headed to the relatively calmness of the Mattawoman,” he said. “My guess would be that there were between 100 to 125 boats from the mouth of the creek up to the Hancock area [in the upper part]. I saw only four with Maryland boat numbers. This is not just during the weekends anymore. We were at Smallwood on a Wednesday not long ago when I counted over 50 out-of-state trailers.”

Coates said that his is not a case of sour grapes. “I’m a 60-year-old man who likes to fish, was born in the LaPlata hospital and is a third-generation Charles Countian.”

What Coates and quite a few others who are tired of seeing local parks jammed with out-of-staters would like to see is for Maryland to begin charging them least $20 to launch boats and park their trailers at the parks. Other states - Delaware is one - do just that.

Coates also would like to see seasonal park passes doubled and, like Garner and me, doesn’t believe that the participants in 200-boat tournaments add very much to the local economy. During a typical three-day event, they often sleep in their own piggyback camper trailers or the cheapest motels they can find. They’re not big on eating out in pricey restaurants, preferring instead to make their own sandwiches or frequent fast-food emporiums.

cLook for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com. Also check out Gene Mueller’s Inside Outside blog at www.washingtontimes.com/sports.