- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 4, 2004

HICKORY, N.C. - After being nearly wiped out by torrential rain during two days of bass fishing at 3,300-acre Lake Hickory, I was forced to switch to Plan B — and that turned into a good thing.

While exploring the lake, driving around by automobile during brief letups in the rain and hoping to find a little fishing fun if only for an hour or so before the clouds would open up again, I latched onto a fine stringerful of fat sunfish and a crappie.

Better yet, before fishing from the shore in unfamiliar waters, I became the happy witness to signs of kindness and true Southern hospitality. Sadly, much of that has come to rest on the back burners of American behavior.

It started with a conversation in a filling station ($1.72 a gallon. Do you hear me, Maryland?) with a middle-aged man who professed to know little of fishing. However, when I asked him to tell me where the nearest boat launching ramp was that might also have a bit of open shoreline where a body might cast a line, he said, “I know one. Follow me. I’ll show you where it is.”

The friendly Carolinian drove through the rolling hills of Catawba County and pretty soon turned into a lane that dead-ended at a four-lane boat launching facility. We waved farewell to each other, smiling, and my benefactor drove off.

That’s when it started. Just like in Maryland and in some places in Virginia, a sign admonished would-be shore anglers to stay off the boat ramp’s little floating piers. “No fishing on the docks,” it said. But then the entire scene shifted.

Unlike my home state, Maryland, where there’s no shortage of “Don’t Do This” and “Don’t Do That” signs, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, in conjunction with a local power company, had set aside a special parking area with a large wooden sign that said, “Bank Fishing Parking Lot.”

I had never seen anything like it. Another sign advised that the parking spaces, the special bank fishing spot, a paved walking path and two wooden fishing piers were made possible in part by the Sport Fish Restoration Act, a federal aid project funded by the taxes charged of fishermen whenever they bought equipment, such as rods, reels, hooks or minnow pails.

From these piers or while wading along the shoreline of Lake Hickory, it was possible to latch onto fat sunfish and crappies with tiny darts hanging beneath plastic floats.

The point I’m making is this: There are plenty of places where a person can fish in the states that surround Washington. However, in the case of Maryland, it has not yet become fashionable to tell the public about it. You have to do a lot sleuthing, contacting your local outdoors writer and checking over various publications. Don’t expect to drive down a highway and suddenly see a nice sign with a pointing arrow saying there’s a public fishing facility or a boat launching ramp ahead.

North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida are loaded with such signs. Water-rich Maryland, meanwhile, doesn’t have enough public fishing access as it is, but what little it does have, it doesn’t seem to be willing to advertise. One example is one of the nicest fishing spots in the state, found at the base of St. George’s Island in St. Mary’s County along the Potomac River.

The approach road to St. George’s is Route5 south of Leonardtown with a right turn in the town of Callaway at Route 249. Is there a sign at the road junction that says “Public Fishing Access This Way”? No. You have to find it yourself.

Virginia is a little more helpful in that regard, with Game and Inland Fisheries access signs seen frequently, but even the Old Dominion could do better.

Meanwhile, take a bow, North Carolina. You deserve it.

Look 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

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