An open letter to Baltimore's mayor:
Put down that guitar, Martin O'Malley, and pick up a rod and reel. Larry Grochowski has a fishing hole he wants to take you to.
Well, it used to be a fishing hole, a popular one, until your administration closed it down two months ago.
Grochowski believes that if you could just meet some of the hundreds of folks who used to drop a line from the Nicodemus Bridge into Liberty Reservoir, you would tear down those "no fishing" signs, Mr. Mayor.
You would be on firm historical footing, sir. For more than 45 years, people fished from the bridge that spans the reservoir between Baltimore and Carroll counties. The reservoir and land around it are owned by your city and patrolled by the half-dozen officers of the Watershed Police.
True, it was illegal to fish from the bridge, but nobody minded and the officers looked the other way.
The watershed officer used to drive to the middle of the bridge and holler to everyone to hold up their fishing license for an informal check, then drive on.
"People from all walks of life fished off that bridge," says Grochowski, 54, a Randallstown native. "Kids and their families or elderly people chit-chatting, making acquaintances, doing no harm."
Grochowski's mother used to bring him to Liberty to fish when he was a kid. He can show you the exact spots.
"You could go for a half-hour, an hour, wet a line and enjoy just being outside," he recalls.
Not anymore. The "no fishing" signs are tacked up at both ends of the bridge, and the watershed officers - at least some of them - are ticketing trespassers.
You should talk to the officers, Mr. Mayor. They would tell you how dumb this crackdown is.
"It's ridiculous," says one watershed officer who warns anglers but won't ticket them.
"You've got a new everything down in city hall, and someone decided to read the regulations," says the officer, who asked that his name not be used for employment security reasons.
Grochowski and the officer say it's probably not your fault, Mr. Mayor. You've most likely never stood along the concrete walkway, sharing coffee, day-old doughnuts and jokes with the Nicodemus regulars.
Why, if you had an eye on higher office, you'd be hard pressed to come up with a more productive campaign stop. On a pretty Saturday morning, anglers used to stand elbow to elbow, making the bridge look like a shad run. Old-timers say that more than 500 people called the bridge their favorite local spot.
The city says closing the bridge is a safety issue. Your officials insist anglers could back off the narrow sidewalk and into traffic, and boaters passing under the bridge could become entangled in fishing lines.
"That's foolish," says the officer with a heart and no name. "You're safer on the bridge than walking down Pratt Street. And if dangling lines are such a danger, why do they allow fishing from the Dulaney Valley Bridge at Loch Raven?"
Good question. Perhaps, Mr. Mayor, you could ask it of your public works director, George Winfield, or the head of the watershed police, Sheila Ripley.
Or perhaps if you'd go fishing with Larry Grochowski, you could see his side of things.
At first glance you might have trouble believing that Grochowski, a strapping 6 1/2 -footer, has trouble getting around. But then he takes a few painful-looking steps and you can see that he is hampered despite six back operations and a hip operation.
Getting into and out of his 17-foot boat is hard, and going up and down the reservoir banks is nearly impossible. He can stand or sit for about 45 minutes before the pain forces him to lie flat. The bridge was one of the last places he was able to frequent before his back got the better of him.
"I haven't been fishing off the bridge for almost two years. What I'm allowed to do physically is constrained," he says. "I sympathize even more now with those who are profoundly handicapped."
The Nicodemus Bridge was a good spot for the handicapped and elderly, Mr. Mayor. They could park at either end of the bridge and walk over.
But the guardrails put up by your workers at the Baltimore County end have eliminated almost a dozen parking spaces. Your public works director said it was to stop folks from dumping trash. If guardrails are the solution, how come crews haven't installed them across every alley and vacant lot in the city?
Grochowski is hoping to get other anglers to write to you, Mr. Mayor, but he admits it won't be easy.
"We're pretty fragmented, pretty informal. I don't know their names," he says. (Anglers can contact him by e-mail at LARRYGLX@cs.com.)
So, Mr. Mayor, why don't you skip out of work some day soon and take a tour of your far-flung empire? Maybe meet Larry Grochowski at the bridge. It won't take long, Larry's back and hip will see to that.
The Irish heritage has its roots in fishing, so it's a role you might find comfortable. If you don't have a rod, Larry and the regulars will lend you one, for sure.
And then maybe, Mr. Mayor, you can take down those signs. Let me propose a date - July 26 - the 10th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
My favorite group of anglers in the entire universe, the Pasadena Sportfishing Group, is throwing a summer bash for youngsters on Aug. 12.
For $2, kids ages 5-15 can take part in the PSG fishing derby at Downs Park in Pasadena, learn about the sport and take home a prize - that's right, EVERY kid gets a prize.
The derby part is divided into age divisions, 5-8, 9-12 and 13-15, with four prizes awarded in each group for largest fish caught and heaviest fish.
PSG volunteers will teach classes on safety, knot tying, rigging a line and baiting a hook. They also will offer tips during the derby and grill some hot dogs.
All contestants must bring their own rod and reel, but PSG will supply the bait. There are other rules (most of them to keep the grownups from horning in on the fun), and George Bentz, president of PSG, will explain them before the contest begins.
Registration is 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., and entrance to the park is free during that time. The application is available on the PSG website, www.heyfish.com, or at Downs Park .
For yet more information, call Bentz at 410-HEYFISH.
To read an expanded Outdoors Journal or the fishing and crabbing report online, go to www.sunspot.net/sports/outdoors.
To hear the fishing and crabbing report, call SunDial and enter category 5378 on your touch-tone phone. The phone number is 410-783-1800 in the Baltimore area; 410-268-7736 in Anne Arundel County; 410-836-5028 in Harford County; and 410-848-0038 in Carroll County.