- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 30, 2003

For Washington area anglers and hunters, 2003 presented mixed blessings, so for the coming year I have a wish list.

It starts with the governor of Maryland, Robert Ehrlich, who was elected in 2003 with the full approval in the voting booth by tens of thousands of the state’s outdoorsmen and women. Ehrlich, they prayed, would get rid of the convoluted dealings of the outgoing, animal rights-leaning Glendening Administration in Annapolis. We hunters and anglers finally had a man in office we could identify with.

Not.

Gov. Ehrlich so far has done only one thing to get our attention: he’s done everything possible to make the commercial crabbers and fishermen feel as if they’re a privileged class, to be protected under the catch-all rubric of “tradition.” Tradition, my foot. A good case could be made that the current sad state of the crab population, for instance, might well be the watermen’s fault because of outlandish overharvesting practices in Maryland and, yes, also Virginia.

Meanwhile, the Guv doesn’t seem to know the sport fishermen and recreational hunters who threw tons of votes his way even exist. We’re talking about guys and gals who not only outnumber the netters and crab potters by 100 to 1, they also add far more to the state’s economy than the handful of commercials ever will with their cash-only dealings tax offices have a tough time tracing.

Here’s hoping 2004 will be the year of common sense in Annapolis and Richmond. The way the crab harvest dipped again last year, shouldn’t we be thinking about some kind of crabbing moratorium the way we did for the rockfish in 1985-1990 when a catch moratorium restored the threatened striper population?

Elsewhere, I hope the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, which took a big budget hit in 2003, can come back to its former glory. Money that hunters, boaters and anglers spend on licenses, registrations and other fees should stay in the department, not be taken to help a cash-strapped state government. The department which used to generate a vigorous exchange of news items, e-mails, trout stocking news, fishing reports and such with news outlets, has nearly dried up. Heck, nowadays our newspaper desk receives more communications from New Hampshire than we do our close neighbor, Virginia.

Happily, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources had the good sense to hire a young lady, Heather Lynch, who organized a super Web page, stayed in touch with the newspapers and even fired off e-mails to remind us of important goings-on. It served the public in the long run and we hope it continues that way. Keep it up in 2004.

As far as recreational fishing is concerned, in 2003 a sour note for local tidal water anglers came by way of Maryland’s Patuxent and Virginia’s Rappahannock rivers in such areas where bass boaters usually chase after well-fed largemouths. Unlike the Potomac’s upper, tidal parts that delivered wonderful catches of bass practically all year long, the Patuxent and Rappahannock laid a big egg — for the second year in a row. Nobody seems to know what’s wrong, but one Maryland biologist told us the Patuxent simply isn’t a good bass reproduction river. Could be the Rappahannock is suffering the same problem. Will somebody, please, find out what’s really wrong.

Also, the most optimistic striper fisherman will agree that the steady numbers of 5- to 10-pound rockfish we had gotten used to in years gone by, especially in the Chesapeake’s rivers during the cold months, have pretty much disappeared. In the case of the Potomac River, whose fisheries are governed by an antiquated, shamelessly pro-commercial commission that is headquartered in Colonial Beach, Va. — an odd place to be what with the Potomac belonging to Maryland — the blame lies squarely with commercial overfishing. My wish? Get rid of the Potomac River Fisheries Commission and let the Maryland DNR run it, which should mandate a strong curtailment of gillnetting and other commercial catch methods.

Finally, Virginia’s rivers are blessed with large numbers of giant blue catfish. Unfortunately, too many are being kept by sport anglers, then often are dumped into trash receptacles. When will the state initiate a one-fish-per-day limit for blue “cats” that, say, weigh more than 20 pounds? It’s time.

EVENTS

Saltwater fishing lecture series — Starts Monday, 7:30 p.m. at Maplewood-Alta Vista Rec Center in Bethesda. Information: 240/777-6870; mcrd.net.

Trout Unlimited chapter meets — Jan. 8, 7:30 p.m., at Vienna (Va.) Volunteer Fire Department. Information: nvatu.org.

Fishing Expo & Boat Show — Jan. 8-11 at Maryland State Fair Grounds in Timonium. Information: fishingexpo.com.

Maryland Bowhunters meet — Jan. 18, noon, at MacroTech in Glen Burnie. Information: 800/434-0811.

Virginia-Carolina Bass & Boat Show — Feb. 6-8, at Golden Leaf Warehouse in South Hill, Va. Information: bassandboatshow.com; 866/219-4544.

CCA/Southern Maryland Winter BBQ — Feb. 21, 6 p.m., at Izaak Walton League Hall, Waldorf. Information: Donald Gardiner, 301/645-3323 or 301/843-3719.

Fly Fishers buy, sell, swap meet — Feb. 21, 9 a.m. at Davidsonville (Md.) Recreation Center. Information: Mike Price, 410/320-0080.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]


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