Bachman proud of DNR legacy; Outdoors


Several weeks ago, while afloat on the Chesapeake Bay, Bob Bachman, Navy veteran, doctor of science, fish and wildlife manager, was recalling fishing trips in various parts of the world.

"You know, I think I have fished in every ocean," Bachman said, as he jigged for rockfish near Calvert Cliffs. "Heck, I have even trolled in the South China Sea from the deck of a nuclear submarine."

But another story stood out, and perhaps it typifies Bachman, who last week retired as director of the state Fisheries Service.

Some years ago, Bachman and his wife, Gail, had purchased a pickup truck and fitted it with a body customized for camping, hunting and fishing.

"It was a real workhorse -- heavy duty with dual rear wheels and a utility body that had lots of storage space for all kinds of gear," Bachman said. "So my wife and I and our son went to Newfoundland to fish for salmon and hunt moose.

"This was when Allen was 4 or 5 months old, and we were traveling logging roads, fording rivers and streams and getting back into where the big moose were."

While the Bachmans were heading into the back country, a hurricane was blowing up the East Coast of the United States, and eventually swept across the Maritimes, causing floods and washing out roads.

"We didn't know about it, of course, and it was quite a thing when it hit," said Bachman, chuckling as he remembered the predicament. "My, the rivers rose fast, and we didn't know if we were going to able to get out -- me, my wife and son and the moose I had shot."

A group of loggers, accustomed to fording high streams and rivers, suggested Bachman remove the fan belt from the truck's engine, so water could not be thrown up and cause the power plant to stall in mid-crossing.

"It was a bit unusual, but it was worth a try and it worked," said Bachman. "I got the moose out first and then went back to get my wife and son. There was water over the floorboards and some nervous moments, but obviously it worked out OK. We're still here."

Probably it is a small memory in Bachman's lifetime, which has included 20 years in the Navy after graduating from the Naval Academy, degrees in oceanography and marine and electrical engineering, doctoral studies on trout at Penn State and 13 years in fisheries and wildlife management with the Department of Natural Resources.

"But it was one of those things you encounter in life," said Bachman. "You find a situation. You study it. You overcome it."

Since 1986, when Bachman joined DNR, he and his staff have studied many situations and overcome or improved virtually all of them.

If you fish the tailwater area on the Gunpowder below Prettyboy Dam, you experience top-quality angling for trout. The Gunpowder fishery is the result of Maryland trout clubs, DNR and Baltimore City Public Works brainstorming over a period of years. Water releases from the dam and tailwater temperatures were stabilized, trout were stocked and fishing tightly regulated until natural reproduction of brown trout produced a trophy fishery.

In Western Maryland, the tailwater areas of the North Branch of the Potomac River and Savage River also have been built into top-notch trout areas as the result of similar brainstorming and years of hard work.

"Clearly those are the things I feel best about," Bachman said Thursday evening. "But, for example, there is the Casselman River as well. It's the first delayed harvest trout area in Maryland, and it has become extremely popular."

Putting restrictions on non-tidal black bass fishing in the spring, a move that was considered controversial when initiated several years ago, has paid big dividends, Bachman said.

"There has been a big improvement in bass fishing since we closed the fishery from March to the middle of June," said Bachman, noting that catch-and-release is permitted from March 1 to June 15. "Those were the good old days. But we came to realize that most big bass are caught in the spring, and people would take them home and put them in the freezer for bragging rights -- keep them until they dried up from freezer burn."

Those anglers also were taking the best stock during the spawning months, Bachman said, "and it didn't take too much thought to realize that if you put those fish back, you'll help build the stock of larger bass. We definitely have larger bass on average now than we did then."

While Bachman, 65, has been planning his retirement since early this year, a controversial current proposal has yet to be acted upon -- the opening of the Susquehanna Flats to a limited season for striped bass (rockfish) from April 10 to May 2.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission striped bass technical committee and policy board have voted in favor of the catch-and-release season on the flats, which are adjacent to areas with heavy rockfish spawning activity.

As of Friday, Maryland had not approved the proposal, which has been supported by a handful of fishing organizations in the state and decried by several others, which feel opening the area will set a precedent for opening other areas on the bay.

"We did a study on the Susquehanna Flats last year, and it showed that mortality among hooked and released striped bass was very low," Bachman said during the fishing trip off Calvert Cliffs. "We're confident that fishing the flats in the spring will not harm the overall fishery, which now has millions of fish. But the only way to know for certain is to try it and see."

But, Bachman said, that is someone else's battle now.

"I'm going to take some time to relax, hunt and fish, and maybe write a little if something strikes my fancy," Bachman said Thursday, after a fishing trip on the Patuxent River.

"Today I saw a pair of bald eagles, this morning the geese were up and flying north," said Bachman, "and on my first day out of the office I went fishing -- that ain't too bad."

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