Light tackle brings on heavy work


This was the week I was going to remind you to give me a yell with your best fish stories of the season. You know, great outing with the kids, biggest fish, the one that almost got away.

Then, John and Mike Dugan came into the picture and hit the trifecta.

The Dugans, "fly fishermen at heart," according to Mike, were light-tackle fishing in the mid-Bay on April 7. John Dugan, a Kent Islander, is retired. Mike, 36, who lives in Elkridge, took the day off from work.

Father and son made the 30-mile run across the bay to the Western Shore to a patch of water south of Breezy Point.

They were first-time callers, acting on a tip from veterans on the Web site (at $6.95 for a one-year subscription, a true bargain).

Blue sky and a slight chop to the water, it was one of those really nifty early spring days.

"All of the sudden, my dad hooked up," says Mike. "He thought he was snagged. The rod doubled over and line was screaming."

Good sportsmen on the boats around them backed off.

At first, the Dugans thought they might have had a skate or drum on the other end. For the first half hour, John Dugan was on the losing end of the fight.

"When I would get two feet on the reel, she would take three to 30 feet out," he says.

Mike was still fishing. "When I looked over, he had just a few wraps of line left. I figured I'd better start the boat and get chasing her."

"He did a great job in letting me get some line back and not giving any slack," says John.

At the 45-minute mark, "My dad was starting to look a little weak in the knees. I asked him if he wanted me to take over and he just glared at me," Mike says, laughing.

Trying to ease the strain on the rod, John Dugan went to back off the drag. D'oh! He punched the free spool button instead. All of a sudden he had a spun mess of 17-pound test line that would have made Rumpelstiltskin proud.

Mike backed the boat over toward the fish while his father tried to get a few wraps of line around the reel.

Five minutes later, the Dugans and their black Lab, Baxter, got their first look at the fish, a striped bass. The dog, standing on the gunnel, bolted to the other side of the boat. It was Moby Striper.

"I was almost as tired as she was," says John Dugan of the egg-laden cow. "When my son said he had her and I could release the tension on the line, the hook fell free and clear. It was partially straightened and there was definite fraying in the line just up from the hook."

Trying to minimize the time the fish would be out of the water, the men worked out their dance steps. John Dugan grabbed the camera while Mike held it over the side with a Boga Grip.

The 50-pound scale on the Boga was beyond its limit. Measuring the fish against a mark on the rod, they pegged the length at 53 inches.

Then Mike grabbed the camera while John grabbed his fish.

Two quick pictures and it was time to let her go.

"I held her for about one minute while Mike slowly trolled ahead. She seemed very strong," John says. "After the third 'bite' down on my thumb and some strong head swings, I released her and she took off immediately."

For the record, John was using a 7-inch Albino Shad Bass Assassin with a 1-ounce jighead on a Quantum bait casting reel.

But speaking of records, would the Dugan catch have bested the state record of 67 pounds, 8 ounces set in 1995 off Bloody Point? That fish, I'm told, was 52 inches, so ...

We could argue the merits all season. Some of us probably will. And someone may actually land a record fish this year.

But for the Dugans, who go bone fishing and tarpon fishing together in Florida and embrace each opportunity to wet a line in the Chesapeake, the record isn't as important as the memories.

"We knew we had a fish of a lifetime," says John. "After a celebratory beer, we went back to try and do it all over again."

Says Mike, "We keep a log of our experiences together and we've had a lifetime of good times. This is No. 1 on the list."

Legislative scorecard

After a rocky start, legislation to authorize the Department of Natural Resources to set up an online system for purchase of fishing and hunting licenses was approved in the final days of the session.

If signed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Maryland will join 40 other states that allow so-called "E-licensing." The bill takes effect July 1.

The House version of the bill was killed by the Environmental Matters Committee, but the Senate version, sponsored by Sen. John Astle, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, was approved by both chambers.

Lawmakers also approved watered-down versions of the "Freedom to Fish" bills, which were part of a nationwide campaign by the Recreational Fishing Alliance.

The original legislation would have required biologists to meet a high scientific burden of proof before closing an area to fishing. As approved, however, the bills outline the steps DNR must take when it closes public fishing areas.

Opponents dubbed the bills "Freedom to Overfish," calling the burden of proof unrealistically high. They also noted that the Recreational Fishing Alliance is bankrolled by the marine equipment industry.

Seven other states, including Delaware, are considering similar bills this year. Other bills approved:

SB50, to authorize the Department of Natural Resources to toughen penalties for repeat offenders of commercial and recreational fishing regulations.

HB 492, to establish a $100 master hunting guide license, a $300 waterfowl outfitter license and a $50 waterfowl hunting guide license.

SB 59, a compromise between waterfront landowners and waterfowl hunters to ensure continued access to licensed offshore blind sites.

SB 429, to tighten requirements for personal flotation devices for children. Among the bills rejected:

SB 60, to raise the cost of a freshwater fishing license from $10.50 to $14.50 and tidal fishing license from $9 to $10.50.

HB451, to impose a six-year moratorium on black bear hunting.

SB279 and HB498, to ban leghold traps.

SB292, to restrict public hunting on 29,000 state-owned acres on the Eastern Shore known as Chesapeake Forest Land.

SB 375 and HB 895, to exempt butchers from state inspections of venison donations to charities such as Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry.

SB 403 and HB 773, to allow the fishing of American and hickory shad by hook and line in tidal waters when the fish are removed from endangered status.

SB 554, to require Maryland fishing guides in coastal bays to buy a $50 permit ($100 for non-resident guides) and limit the number of permits to 25.

SB 752 and HB 1259, to establish a commission to study fees collected by DNR, and recommend changes.

SB 811 and HB 1406, to transfer Natural Resources Police to the State Police.

SB 496, to authorize the DNR secretary to set fees - not to exceed $30 - to cover the costs of wildlife management and protection programs.

HB 619, to give hunters the option of taking an entire deer carcass or just the head and skin to a check station.

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