Hybrids' genetic trail is tough for angler to follow


KENNEDYVILLE -- You've been eating oatmeal all your life, then someone puts a juicy steak in front of you. What do you do? Take a big bite naturally.

And that's just what the exceptionally scrappy fish of several pounds did to my small Beetle Spin lure before it thrashed on the surface next to the catwalk on 12-acre Goose Valley Lake.

Just when I figured I had won, it dove for the bottom under the walk, snagged a plank, and departed with my white soft plastic lure with black lead head still in its jowls. That's the way it is in fishing.

It had been raised on pellets, but fought like it was nurtured on Wheaties or spinach. It was a hybrid rockfish, and the biggest of the day to take my offering. The biggest fish is always the one that gets away.

Though gone, his fight alone would have made my day. Rock are strong, wary and unpredictable, but in a hatchery mix involving a diminutive freshwater white bass you end up with a hybrid that not only grows faster and stronger, but also fights better -- and primarily with topwater antics.

Could it be somewhere along the genetic trail a bit of bluefish got mixed into the strain?

This hybrid and the thousands of others like it are the product of aquaculture -- better known hereabouts as fish farming, a growing industry in Maryland. And the intriguing part of the overall scheme is a hook and line "bycatch."

These fish are raised for market where they bring $4 a pound, but Tom Geist, who heads Goose Valley Fish Farm, isn't satisfied just raising hybrids for the table. He realizes there is another financially productive application -- offering them for the hook at a moderate price.

So, not only is Goose Valley Lake a growing pond for marketable hybrids, it is also a fee fishing impoundment, the likes of which were popular in Maryland 30 years ago. You pay a fee, catch all you want -- or can afford at an added per pound cost, and it's just like angling in the wild -- except that your chances are better because the waters are teeming with fish.

Though hybrids are the main fare, there are also largemouth bass including one of 9 pounds released last year; also some mighty big sunfish. Twelve acres holds an awful lot of water, but fish bite according to their whims, their preferences and their appetite.

This is no catching fish in a barrel; you must understand your adversary, and offer the right lure with an appropriate presentation.

What a setup to teach someone to fish, either from shore or by boat. Rowboats are available, or you can launch your own complete with electric motor, though no gasoline kickers are allowed.

Gene Mueller of Waldorf and I inadvertently started out by casting from shore. We started to launch a small boat, but were interrupted when we noticed swirls 25 feet away. Mueller quickly reeled in a bass of a couple pounds, and I followed with a hybrid almost as big.

There were several other strikes and a sunfish or two before we got the boat over to try casting to partially submerged trees on one side of the pond, and a flats on the other. It was late morning and hot, but the fish didn't seem to mind. They wanted small jigs and Beetle Spins dressed up with white or yellow Twister Tails or Sassy Shads.

Realizing that recently a sunfish of better than 2 pounds came from this impoundment in a tournament, Mueller turned his attention to them -- and with an old farm boy technique with a new twist. Scent baits.

He rigged a small hook 2 1/2 feet below a bobber and added Berkley Powerbait globs to the hook. Every cast brought a strike as he jigged the bobber, which in turn made the hook dance. His biggest sunnie was a 9-incher. I got to thinking what a worm would do on a bobber rig, but stayed with hybrid techniques.

By quitting time I got five more hybrids pushing a couple pounds each, and lost the last that was probably of a pound more. Such fishing is available for $15 a person, plus $2 a pound for bass and hybrids. Children under 12 are admitted free with adults -- and there is no poundage charge for sunfish. Call 1-301-778-5300.

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