- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 1, 2003

For anglers, boaters and hunters the year that just ended will be remembered with mixed emotions.
On the fishing scene, the 2002 yellow perch spawning run could have been better. We Southern Marylanders do so look forward to the gold-hued fish that have no more fight than a wet dish rag, but in the late February and early March days they provide most of the fishing fun in tidal creeks and rivers from Virginia to Maryland. To us, the yellow neds are what winter trout stockings are to mid-Atlantic mountain stream waders, or grunion fans in Californians.
As the spring arrived so did fat, trophy-sized rockfish over many portions of the Chesapeake Bay and everybody rejoiced when spawning runs of hickory and white shad developed in Maryland waters that hadn't seen such shad numbers in quite a while. But fishermen wondered what happened to the largemouth bass in Maryland's Patuxent and Virginia's Rappahannock the fishing was lousy in both and then were even more perplexed when some tournament fishing "experts" from the Deep South began to spread the word that the Potomac River's bass fishing had begun to decline.
The opposite was true. In 2002, Potomac bass fishing was fantastic and the only thing that bothered boaters who were not into competition fishing were the large number of bass tournaments that were held on the river. A bummer for those who wanted to fish quietly and unbothered, but welcomed by the tourism promoters in Charles County, Md., who are tickled pink when bass fanatics arrive by the numbers.
The Potomac's bass fishing continued to be good even as the summer approached and the region began to suffer from a lack of rain. The drought was in everybody's thoughts, especially those among us who depend on wells to deliver sweet groundwater.
Another welcome catch among lower Potomac, as well as Patuxent, Choptank and Rappahannock river bottom anglers were fat croakers by the thousands, unusually fine numbers of flounder, and hello! ever-increasing numbers of juvenile redfish, also known as puppy drum. The little reds would strike bass fishermen's plastic worms, crankbaits, even topwater poppers as far up as the Mattawoman Creek, a popular Potomac bass tributary. However unintentional, puppy drum were caught until the first frost arrived across our region.
The drought of 2002 raised havoc with smallmouth bass anglers in the mountain rivers. Whether it was the upper reaches of the James, Rappahannock, Potomac or Susquehanna rivers. In what little water was left in the freshwater rivers, dense mats of star grass developed; shallows became walk-across rockbeds and even the deep holes that supply life-giving water when things get tough, were lowered to dangerously sparse levels. All the same, some die-hard smallmouth bass fanatics scored very well, but the vast majority of the fish was returned to the water.
As far as the drought was concerned, it showed its worst side during a bass and crappie fishing trip to Lake Hartwell's upper end in the area of the Tugaloo State Park, Ga., where private docks stuck out like sore thumbs, sometimes six and seven feet above the lake's water level. Strong chains tied to poles or shore trees kept the docks from completely collapsing. The Deep South was struck especially hard by the lack of rain and in the case of northern Georgia it was a recreational and economic disaster.
Then there was a trout fishing trip to the Cherokee Indian Reservation in the Great Smoky Mountains, N.C., where we were cancelled by strong rains that raised the creek levels and turned them brown. Still, the summertime crowds in the mountains were happy to see the rain and who were we to complain?
Despite the drought, spectacular good fishing greeted us in early fall during a visit to Lake Wylie, on the North Carolina/South Carolina border. The lake was low, but not so low as to prevent my new-found friend, bass guide Jimmy Drumm, and me from catching dozens of largemouths some of them big and well-fed.
Hunting season arrived amid the beginnings of steady rains. Water levels rose everywhere, including the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission's Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge reservoirs, where boat launching had been severely restricted. The early parts of the dove season were a personal bust, but the squirrel hunting was outstanding. Deer were everywhere and if a body didn't get one, he or she probably had only themselves to blame.
The best news during the November elections was the departure of Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening, whose pro-animal rights views were a thorn in every hunter's and angler's side. Ditto for his Lt. Gov., Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who for some stupid reason made gun control a major campaign issue. Thankfully she lost, but we doubt whether she'll ever learn that only decent citizens will go along with restrictive gun laws. Gangsters, crooks and hoodlums won't, so how was she going to help lower crime with her Polyannaish approach?
Have a wonderful New Year.

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