- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 6, 2004

From one of the hardest-working fish biologists in our area, John Odenkirk, who operates out of Virginia’s Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ Fredericksburg office, comes an e-mail concerning our worries in a column a week ago about the state of the largemouth bass in the tidal Rappahannock River.

All of us who fish the historic Rappahannock have noticed that — at least in the tidal parts between Fredericksburg and Tappahannock — bass catches have declined dramatically in the past several years. There was a time when local anglers favorably compared the Rappahannock to the Potomac River, one of the most productive tidal bass rivers in the United States. But that is not happening now.

So here is John Odenkirk, who doesn’t ignore problems. He cares a great deal about the health of our waters, the fish recruitment, habitat and all the other parts of piscatorial puzzles. He wrote:

“There will be a bunch of updates to local waters coming in the very near future. As regards the largemouth bass in the tidal Rappahannock system, we began an intensive monitoring program [in 2003] to build a baseline database. We will build on this in 2004 and later and will be able to develop trend analysis and population dynamics data.

“Previous samples in this system were somewhat random and infrequent (as opposed to the upper or nontidal Rappahannock, where we’ve done extensive investigations). I can say that I’ve always felt abundance was much lower in the Rappahannock than in other nearby tidal waters (e.g., Potomac or James rivers). This could be due to differences in habitat and/or community structure, but we should know more in a few years. I also believe that year class strength can be much more variable in tidal rivers than in ‘more traditional’ largemouth bass waters like reservoirs.”

Odenkirk also addressed a “hot button” issue, as he called it: the abundance of large blue catfish in Virginia’s rivers. Some of us who are natural conservationists have always hoped for regulations that would sharply limit the numbers of blue catfish an angler could keep.

However, all is not gold that glitters. Says Odenkirk: “[There are] those who think like you and want them conserved with harvest restrictions, and [there are] others who want them all dead now. Because this species is so new to state waters and the populations are still expanding, we have not initiated any creel or size limits. Blue cat population increases are undoubtedly having a dramatic impact on other native and introduced sport and food fish in these systems, and until we know more, there are simply too many concerns over what this exotic will do.”

Thus, Odenkirk nearly echoes what a Maryland freshwater biologist told me in respect to flathead catfish that are found in the upper, non-tidal parts of the Potomac River. He, too, is worried about what this previously not present species in the river could suddenly do to the forage base and to the sport fish species, such as smallmouth bass — a far more important gamefish species that generates important dollars for a state’s tourism and related businesses.

Fishing/boating show opens — Don’t forget the annual Fishing Expo & Boat Show at the Timonium Fairgrounds, only a hop off I-83 north of Baltimore. This 20th yearly show begins tomorrow and ends Sunday evening. You’ll be able to look at or buy any of 200 different models of bass boats, 150 saltwater boats and fishing tackle of every type, including many hard-to-find items. There’ll also be a trout pond if you want to try your luck, a number of fishing seminars by local and national fishing experts, a CastingKids competition and more. Admission is $8 ($4 for ages 10 to 14; children under 10 get in free.) See details at fishingexpo.com.

Fly Fishing Show — This is strictly for fly rodders. It runs Saturday and Sunday at Reckord Armory, University of Maryland in College Park. Learn where and how to fish, get continuous fly tying instructions and shop for all your fly fishing needs at more than 100 booths. Admission is $12. Information: flyfishingshow.com or call 800/420-7582.

EVENTS

Trout Unlimited chapter meets — Tomorrow, 7:30 p.m., at Vienna (Va.) Volunteer Fire Department. Includes a knots and leaders workshop with instructor Tom Brtalik, a Pennsylvania fly fishing guide. Check the NVTU Web site, nvatu.org for details.

Fishing Expo & Boat Show — Tomorrow through Sunday, at Maryland State Fair Grounds, Timonium. This 20th annual event features a huge display of freshwater, saltwater, and offshore tackle, boats, trailers, motors, accessories and booths staffed by fishing- or boating-related organizations. Information: fishingexpo.com.

The Fly Fishing Show — Saturday-Sunday, at Reckord Armory, University of Maryland, College Park. Starts at 9 a.m. each day. Exotic fly fishing trips will be awarded as door prizes. Information: flyfishingshow.com or call 800/420-7582.

Maryland Bowhunters meet — Jan. 18, noon to 2 p.m., at the MacroTech store in Glen Burnie. Information: 800/434-0811.

Capital Sportsmen’s Show — Jan. 30 through Feb. 1 at Dulles Expo Center, Chantilly, Va. Live deer displays, retrieving dogs, fishing seminars, casting pool, 3-D archery contest, Old Dominion Fly Fishing Show with the best fly tackle and specialty boats, conventional tackle, fishing guides and latest electronic equipment. Information: osegsportsmens.com.

Virginia-Carolina Bass & Boat Show — Feb. 6-8, at Golden Leaf Warehouse in South Hill, Va. Come see the Hawg Trough, a tank filled with trophy bass. Information: bassandboatshow.com or 866/219-4544.

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

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

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