City takes leap on Nicodemus Bridge


Let's welcome back an old fishing buddy.

The Nicodemus Bridge, for decades one of the best places to wet a line in north Baltimore County, is open for business again.

The span across Liberty Reservoir was taken out of circulation earlier this year by the city of Baltimore, which controls the water and surrounding land.

There's plenty of "atta boys" to go around on this one. First, to Lefty Kreh, who called me one spring morning and, in that quiet way of his, laid out the problem.

"You should do something," he concluded.

Now, you know it's big when Lefty, who writes books and fishes with presidents and even more important people than that, is worried about a local bridge.

A column followed, noting that folks had been fishing from the bridge since "Howdy Doody was a 2-by-4" without any disastrous consequences. Handicapped people, grandparents with their grandkids and fishermen without boats all loved the place.

And the column noted the city's hand-wringing about bridge jumpers and excited fishermen stepping back into traffic and boaters getting tangled up in dangling fishing lines.

Two days after it ran, the phone rang. Larry Grochowski said he'd take up the battle flag.

All through the summer, the Reisterstown man pestered City Hall, the city public works department and lawmakers. A second column here in July urged Mayor Martin O'Malley to do the right thing.

Now he has.

Baltimore Public Works Director George Winfield is working out the details, but already his Baltimore watershed police have stopped chasing fishermen away. Pretty soon, crews will repaint the lines on the bridge to add a little more room on the side of the span where folks will be allowed to dangle their lines.

"The guys are up there fishing already," said a relieved Grochowski. "I'm just happy for them, happy justice was served."

Me too.

Further circle hook study

Last year, Rudy Lukacovic proved that circle hooks were good for the fish. This year, he hopes to find out if the hooks are good for the fisherman.

Lukacovic, a fisheries biologist with the Department of Natural Resources, was out on the Chesapeake Bay on Tuesday just as tropical depression Gordon became nothing more than a gloomy gust.

With him aboard Capt. Joe Sadler's Kristy Ann were six anglers wrapped in foul weather gear, ready to take part in a five-hour fishing expedition on that rockfish hangout known as "The Hill."

Three participants had rods with standard 3/0 "J" hooks. Three had rods rigged with 9/0 non-offset circle hooks. Each angler fished for 30 minutes with one kind of hook and then swapped rods and fished for 30 minutes with the other kind. The process was repeated all morning.

Lukacovic asked everyone to fill out a survey, noting the number of hits, catches and lost bait in each session.

The fish - stripers mostly, but some blues, too - cooperated, and pretty soon everyone forgot the weather.

As anglers hauled in fish, Lukacovic removed the hooks, inspected the damage they had done and measured the fish before putting them back in the water.

During lulls, he explained the reason for the two-part study on the effectiveness of the circle hook.

Last year, with the input of a number of Maryland fishing groups, he discovered that stripers caught on conventional hooks were more likely to die than those caught on circle hooks.

When a fish swallows a conventional hook, the point often causes massive damage to the heart and liver, negating any benefits of catch-and-release.

But the circle hook's strange design prevents deep hooking by keeping the point away from internal organs. The hook, more often than not, catches the fish's mouth.

Slightly more than 9 percent of the 476 stripers in the study caught on conventional hooks died. Only 0.8 percent of the 640 stripers caught on a non-offset circle hook died.

However, the study raised a second question: Did circle hooks do as good a job keeping fish on the line?

Certainly a straight-up comparison of the numbers of fish caught indicated circle hooks are just as effective.

"But we wanted to give anglers the whole picture," Lukacovic said. "If we can give everything to the sportsman, they can make an informed decision."

So this year, he's comparing the two hooks, side by side. Tuesday's outing, the third this summer, was the halfway point.

The circle hook was holding its own against the conventional style during our mini-experiment. We caught 39 rockfish, nine of them keepers. Fifty strikes were on the circle hook, 51 on the "J" hook.

Lukacovic, who has presented the first part of his circle hook study to 15 local clubs and associations, says he anticipates adding the findings from Part 2 in November.

If you have a group that would like to book Lukacovic for a meeting, call him at 410-643-6785.

Remembering Eshleman

Val Eshleman loved the Chesapeake Bay. He ran an Annapolis marina and another on Kent Island and fished every chance he could.

Eshleman also loved children.

After his death in 1994 in a boating accident, his friends and family decided to start a fishing tournament to raise money for Camp Sunrise, a program that gives young cancer patients and their families a chance to relax in the outdoors.

"It was a natural fit," says tournament spokesman George Spiers.

Since the first Val N. Eshleman Memorial Rockfish Open in 1995, organizers have raised $33,000.

"Thirty-three thousand doesn't sound like a lot when you read about millions being raised elsewhere, but we work awfully hard at this," Spiers says.

This year's event is Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. The entry fee is $125 a boat. First prize is $2,500 for the longest rockfish. The measuring station is at Kentmorr Harbour.

Spiers says they raised $8,000 last year and hope to add $2,000 to the total this year.

If you don't want to rock-fish, you can come by Kentmorr Harbour at 3 p.m. Oct. 1 and rock to the tunes of Bird Dog and the Road Kings, watch the awards ceremony at the marina and chow down at the $7 buffet.

To register, call 410-349-8586.

Fishing for more than fun

The weatherman's warnings of foul conditions didn't scare off all the competitors in the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association's fall tournament in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries Sept. 16.

Sixty-one boats tried to catch the heaviest rockfish and bluefish.

Capt. Richard Dew of Waldorf caught a 16.5-pound rockfish, good for first place and $1,000. Dew also entered all of the skill levels and collected an additional $1,558. In the bluefish division, David Hoffman of Davidsonville won $1,000 for his 3.29-pound bluefish. He also entered all the skill levels and added another $998 to his total.

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