ANNAPOLIS -- Trout and black bass are each, in their own right, a rite of spring -- and each, given the impact of increasing fishing pressure, is managed with an eye toward ensuring the propagation or stabilization of the species.
At a media workshop early last week at the Department of Natural Resources, director of freshwater fisheries Robert Bachman assessed Maryland's management programs for trout and black bass.
In a number of Maryland counties, trout fishing is a put-and-take process that provides four weeks to three months of super fishing and then fades away until the arrival of new hatchery stocks the next spring.
But there is another side to trout fishing in Maryland, a facet that Bachman displays proudly and ever larger portions of the state's 200,000 freshwater fishermen are looking upon with renewed interest: an increase in populations of naturally reproducing trout in select waters.
"When it comes to management, clearly the two most intensively managed fisheries are the trout and the black bass -- largemouth and smallmouth," Bachman said. "One of the reasons that you tend to see a lot of information on the trout fishery is that it is, first of all, the only put-and-take fishery that is a cost-effective fishery."
Through the state hatchery program, the Department of Natural Resources raises brown and rainbow trout to catchable size and then stocks them in parts of the state where there otherwise might be limited fishing opportunity.
These are the put-and-take fish, those trout raised to be caught with cheese baits and kernels of corn in areas that probably would not support a population of rainbows or browns once the weather warms and the water level drops.
What makes the Maryland trout program more interesting, Bachman said, is the success of natural reproduction in waters that once were considered barren, what he calls the "dial-a-trout program."
"We [the DNR, with the assistance of volunteers from fishermen's organizations] are able to go into most of our naturally reproducing trout streams and practically get the Social Security number and birth date of every trout in that stream," Bachman said. "And we can tell how fast they are growing and from that make reasonable -- I hope -- management decisions."
Most of those decisions come to the public in the form of regulations. The yearly regulations are a double-edged sword that can cut fishing pressure or open new territory.
Two areas that have benefited from intense management over the past few years are the lower Savage River and the Gunpowder Falls in Baltimore County. The lower Savage River, for example, will not be stocked at all this year.
"The reason is that our surveys over the last four years have shown that we now have natural reproduction of brook and brown trout in that five miles of river [from the Savage River Reservoir downstream to the confluence with the North Branch of the Potomac River]," Bachman said. "It would be counterproductive to stock it. Literally, that place is a veritable nursery for brook trout.
"We now have an 18-inch minimum size on brown trout and a 12-inch minimum on brook trout, and people are catching keepers. That's not bad when you recognize that those are not stocked fish."
The Gunpowder Falls from Prettyboy Dam to Loch Raven Reservoir is another success story -- especially because it is within 25 miles of downtown Baltimore and the focus of intense fishing pressure.
"We have a phenomenal trout fishery in at least eight miles, and maybe a lot farther," Bachman said. "But most of that is on state park property, and there is plenty of parking."
Access to trout waters often translates to fishing pressure. Fishing pressure translates to heavy regulation, and regulation, in this case, translates to an uncommon fishery.
"We have had catch-and-return regulations on one section, two fish per day on another section, put-and-take on the others," Bachman said. "As a result of those regulations, we have had a continuing increase in the standing crop of brown and rainbow trout in the last four years."
But the fear is that the angling pressures on "16- to 17-inch brown trout grown practically at your doorstep would start to go back down," Bachman said.
"So, this year, we have gone with catch-and-return on a three-mile section from York Road down to Blue Mount Road," Bachman said. "I rarely make a prediction, but I'm pretty darn sure that fishery is really going to take off with that protection of these trout that are naturally reproducing."
In the case of stocked trout streams, Maryland has started its biggest stocking schedule in recent years, with some 275,000 trout scheduled to be released in more than 100 sites in 12 counties.
On Town Creek in Allegany County, a delayed harvest program will be instituted. The delayed harvest program is modeled after a similar program on the Casselman River the past three years.
Last year, non-tidal bass fishing went to regulations that required releasing all largemouths and smallmouths caught during March June 15. This year, the regulations will be continued, and Bachman said the restrictions seem to be having the expected impact on stocks.
A catch-and-return program on Deep Creek Lake has resulted in larger average sizes of bass for four successive years. "We are pretty darn sure that is the result of the no-kill regulations," Bachman said.
The reason for catch-and-return during the bass spawning season in non-tidal waters is to protect the large fish that are very easy to catch because they are in shallow water along the shorelines.
By the middle of June, most of the bigger bass will have moved off into deeper water, where they are somewhat harder to catch.
Is the plan working?
"The fishing didn't go to hell in a hand basket in just one year because we protected the fish. . ." Bachman said. "We don't have a shortage of largemouth or smallmouth bass. We have a shortage of those nice, big ones that everybody wants to hang on the wall or put in the freezer.
"We are just trying to make it a little bit harder for them to hang them on the wall or put them in the freezer -- not any harder for them to catch them."
The bass season is open, Bachman emphasizes, but through June 15 fishermen must release their catch in non-tidal waters.
Trout changes at a glance
Savage River: Catch-and-return area upstream of Savage Reservoir has been changed to put-and-take area. Downstream from the reservoir is now a trophy trout area with daily creel limit of two trout and minimum sizes of 18 inches for browns and 12 inches for brook trout. The area from the dam to the confluence with the North Branch of the Potomac River is separated into a fly-fishing only area closest to the dam and an artificial lures and fly area downstream.
Herrington Creek: Stockings planned along Herrington Manor Road under put-and-take regulations.
Deep Creek Lake: Creel limit has been increased to five trout per day.
Town Creek Special Area: A delayed harvest program will be instituted in the lower section of the stream in Green Ridge State Forest. From Jan. 1 through May 31, fishing will be catch and return with artificial lures only. After May 31, put-and-take regulations will be in place and the creel limit will be two trout per day.
White Sulfur Pond and Orchard Pond: These two ponds within Green Ridge State Forest have been added to the trout stocking schedule.
Brownsville Pond: This pond 10 miles south of Boonsboro on Route 67 will be stocked for put-and-take fishing.
Carroll Creek: Two new management areas limited to youths and those visually impaired have been added. Between Montevue Avenue and Shooktown Road will be a catch-and-return, fly-fishing-only area. From Route 15 downstream to the dam at College Avenue will be managed as a put-and-take area.
Cold Deer Pond: The body within the Fishing Creek watershed will be managed as a put-and-take area.
Woodsboro Pond: A new put-and-take area of one acre about a half-mile east of Woodsboro on Route 550.
Owens Creek: The upper sections have been removed from put-and-take regulation to enhance wild brook and brown trout populations within Catoctin Mountain National Park. Put-and-take fishing will continue downstream from the white church in Lantz to the bridge over Route 550.
Patapsco River: Near the west end of Main Street and at the end of Avondale Street in Sykesville, the river will be stocked for put-and-take trout fishing for the first time in many years.
Great Seneca Creek: An addition to the put-and-take stocking schedule, this stream will be stocked near Riffle Road and Black Rock Road.
Gunpowder Falls: The area from York Road downstream to Blue Mount Road is now being managed as a catch-and-return area limited to flies and artificial lures. Only fingerling trout will be stocked in this area.