Most days, self-employed home improvement contractor Russell Kelly would be hard at work on a remodeling job. But not on this day. Not when there are fish to be caught at Loch Raven Reservoir.
"We're trying to hide, sneak out of work a little bit," Kelly says, speaking for the fishermen of greater Baltimore as he loads a tackle box the size of a small suitcase into a rented johnboat. Quickly, he adds: "Without our wives catching us."
If it's spring, it's time for humans to return to Loch Raven -- even if that means burning a vacation day or playing hooky. The fishing season is under way at the reservoir, and waters that for months were undisturbed save for the occasional jumping fish or swooping blue heron once again are dotted with canoes and bass-boats.
"Over the years, I've probably fished the whole lake," says Bill Burgess, an electrical engineer from Ashburton, as he sets off to reel in some crappies. Burgess says he likes Loch Raven because "it's productive," adding: "I don't like to go fishing just for the experience of being out on the water. I like to catch something."
Crappies, bluegills, northern pike and pickerel. Yellow and white perch. Bass, both large- and small-mouthed. They're all there, swimming in Loch Raven's billions of gallons of water. You just have to find them.
(Hint: In the cooler spring weather, try fishing Dead Man's and Peerce's coves, or other shallow areas where the water is relatively warm and the fish are spawning.)
On opening day Friday, anglers lined up at the gate at the Loch Raven Fishing Center before 5 a.m., eager to launch their boats and head off in search of The Big One.
"Everybody likes to get their first casts. They've been dreaming about it all winter," says Kevin McComas, manager of the Loch Raven Fishing Center. "Man, you get up in the morning and you're the first one to cast to a spot that hasn't seen a line in four months. It's a phenomenal fishing day."
Tucked into a cove off Dulaney Valley Road, the center is there to outfit fishermen. Sandwiches and waxworms are for sale; boats and electric motors are for rent. McComas says the center expects about 5,000 boat rentals this year.
The boats -- some aluminum, some reproductions of wooden rowboats from Tilghman Island -- are tethered against old tires. The tires aren't trash; they act as fenders on the shoreline.
Burgess, the fisherman from Ashburton, climbs into his rented boat and tells his 26-year-old son, Clinton, "Cast us off."
"Push us off?" Clinton asked.
Father: "Yeah, push us off."
Son: "I'm not a boater, so I don't know what you're talking about."
Father: "I'm going to go nautical on you today."
Some, like buddies Brian Reitz and Ricky Wilcox, come to Loch Raven in serious pursuit of bluegill and northern pike.
Hooking a fish, says Reitz, "can be the best adrenalin flow you ever had."
But others, like Deneise Walker, are trolling for nothing more than some peace and quiet on the water.
Her friend, Gary Woods, was ready for some fishing. But as they shoved off, Walker said: "I'm not touching any worms. I'm fishing for compliments."
For more information about the Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks' Loch Raven Fishing Center: 410-887-7692.