- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2008

HILLTOP, Md.

Every year during the early days of March the bass fishing guides of Reel Bass Adventures, who mostly ply their trade on the tidal Potomac River, conduct a yellow perch outing. They invite friends to share a half day of fishing in one of the Potomac’s tributaries that turns up thousands of spawning perch.

When the fishing is done and the boats are back on their trailers, the gang congregates on a hill above the boat launch. Before long, the aroma of fried fish, potato wedges, baked beans and sundry other items fills the air. The second half of the perch day is spent slaking thirsts and shouting at the fry cooks to deliver more perch fillets.

However, this year Mother Nature threw a bit of a monkey wrench into the outing. As occurs all too frequently, our town’s company of meteorologists missed the mark about monsoon rains arriving in the late afternoon and early evening. The wet stuff came at noon.

Nonetheless, our gang of perch hunters, including the acting chief of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Inland Fisheries, Don Cosden, wasn’t concerned.

Like a few others who’ve held the job in the past, Cosden, 55, is the perfect man for the job. A trained biologist, he knows fish and the job that needs to be done in a department that deals with the finned critters. Better yet, the state’s license buyers should be happy to know that Cosden also is a sport fisherman of the first order.

As an old bass tournament participant once told me, “All a fish needs to do is breathe on my lure and I’ve got him.” Cosden is that type of angler. He has a bass boat and casts his lures in many of the state’s waters whenever time allows — and he knows how set a hook.

The bass guide Dale Knupp and I chatted about having such a man in Annapolis when someone else might have been chosen; someone who wouldn’t know the difference between a loudmouth and a largemouth.

As we started our boat engines to return to the dock in time to fry fish, the dark clouds opened up.

Imagine driving a boat during at low tide through a face-pelting rain on the way back from Nanjemoy Creek’s headwaters, not being able to see well, running through narrow channels that might only be 3 feet deep and 10 feet wide, with expansive 1-foot-deep mud flats on either side. Happily, we made it back safely.

Knupp and marine store owner Francis Guy, who didn’t trust the earlier forecasts, each brought a plastic canopy, held up by an aluminum frame. They shielded the deep-fry pots and propane tanks. We put folding chairs under the tent-like structures and soon there were heaping piles of previously caught and filleted perch on the plates.

While Cosden ate we talked about the state’s fisheries and, since the guys on hand fished mostly for tidal water largemouth bass — which Cosden is also in charge of — that species ruled the conversation. “I think the tidal Potomac is still best for bass, but don’t overlook the upper Chesapeake Bay and the fine fishing to be had in the Sassafras River and the edges along the Susquehanna Flats that can deliver good numbers of bass,” he said.

Cosden also has a soft spot for the upper Potomac’s smallmouth bass, having fished the river’s smallies for more than 25 years. He’s fond as well of the Susquehanna River’s tidal bass and stripers and the sometimes incredibly good shad fishing to be found there, saying there are times when he finds all three species in a one-day visit.

The Lothian, Md., native said his department could use a specialist just for the tidal bass fisheries alone. He believes the Eastern Shore’s Choptank and Chester rivers require more attention as far as their bass are concerned because the largemouths there are definitely not as plentiful as they once were.

When asked how Maryland bass fishing compares to other states, he smiled and recalled a tidal water bass symposium that several DNR biologists attended at Auburn University. After all the notes were compared, it appeared that Maryland’s tidal largemouths grew bigger than those in states south of Virginia. Go figure.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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