City reservoirs' boat ban is puzzling, troubling


DETOUR -- As the chilly fog lifted off the Monocacy, troublesome thoughts within me eased.

After all, that's what fishing is all about.

Too bad those who manage the Baltimore City Department of Public Works don't appreciate this. Their decision to keep closed -- for the year at least -- Liberty, Prettyboy and Loch Raven reservoirs to visiting boats was one of the disturbing thoughts.

I decided to go fishing and think through the department's highly questionable battle plan against the zebra mussel. En route to the Monocacy, I felt anger as I drove past Liberty Reservoir with no boats visible.

Normally at this time of year shortly after daybreak, bass boats would dot the reservoir as their occupants tried for bass -- even though they must be released until mid-June -- or landlocked rock, crappies, perch and catfish.

Thankfully, Baltimore and its water supply have nothing to do with the Monocacy, or the small nearby pond scheduled for fishing in the afternoon.

My host, Eugene Stover, a longtime member of Westminster Field and Stream Club, already had a stringer of catfish and red-eye bass when I arrived. And he had released several smallmouths, caught mostly on swimming Rapala plugs.

I chose waters close to the bank below a low dam where I found fish more than willing to take small spinnerbaits, a soft plastic crawfish and a soft plastic Gitzit with jig head that kept it near the bottom at the edge of swift swirls.

The smallmouths weren't big, but their strike was. Red-eyes are never big, but are aggressive and as always fought with considerable spunk. Within the hour I had lost both my crawfish and Gitzit, only to discover I left at home my case of plastics. So I had no choice but to try something different.

Surface plugs wouldn't draw a strike; currents were too swift for spinnerbaits to work at peak efficiency, so I switched to small Beetle-Spins, which are a tiny version of spinnerbaits though more workable in shallow swift areas -- and even more attractive to red-eyes, though not to be ignored by smallmouths.

A bluegill of 9 inches was among the fish to take a Beetle-Spin of black and white before I called it quits for the river shortly after noon. As I lunched, my thoughts returned to the reservoirs and their fishermen.

If the zebra mussel is destined to arrive in the reservoirs regardless of precautions, why did the city ban boating so quickly? It can't ban waterfowl -- and fowl also carry zebra life in some stage to new waters. It's happening in many areas, and I might mention that with only one exception (in Connecticut) no other water supply managers have taken such drastic steps.

Baltimore's water supply managers have never had a reputation for appreciating multiple-use aspects of its reservoirs. The Loch Raven Fishing Center was started by the late Glenn L. Martin, and is operated by Baltimore County Recreation and Parks Department. Baltimore public works officials have done nothing to enhance recreational opportunities on Liberty and Prettyboy.

And, if you want to get right down to it, negotiations thus far give little indication that Baltimore is thinking of lifting the ban next year. One gets the impression that to water supply people, fishermen are a nuisance.

There I was, getting worked up again, so I headed back fishing, this time to the pond where George Hicks was fishing with his 13-year-old son, J. R., who quickly picked up a pair of largemouths on a red Twister Tail jig in waters of less than a foot deep. His brothers, Kenny and Teddy, joined Stover to fill a stringer of red-eyes on the Monocacy.

I drew several good strikes and lost one bass on a light blue spinnerbait before finding in my fishing vest an old soft plastic Strike Proof Worm. Among the favorites of bass chasers, it is hollow, but gains weight by taking in water to make it easier to cast.

Fish love it, but the hooks are curved so close to the body to avoid snagging that some days bass are exceptionally difficult to hook; other days they take it more aggressively and hook themselves. The first dozen bass were in the former category, but then one largemouth clamped its jaws too tight, the hooks were set, and he was mine -- until I released him.

Seven bass in a day along with all the panfish one could want makes a nice day; certainly much better than my Liberty and Prettyboy boating counterparts can enjoy these days.

And that gets me huffy again.

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