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This bait's cast at you, but it's actually goldfish


FOR AS LONG as sportsmen and women have been trying to gain an edge over critters, there have been companies peddling the next gimmick to give humans supremacy over members of the animal kingdom.

As a member of Homo sapiens with a college degree who owns two rather large house cats with an agenda, I can only repeat the immortal words of Aerosmith: "Dream on."

Yet, every season battery-powered gizmos and genetically jiggered bait flood the market. The latest must-have in our market is the "Black Salty," a live bait so powerful, we're told, that the whale would spit up Jonah to make room.

Ahh. If only the tiny fish with the dark flesh would cause Chesapeake Bay fish to surrender to our hooks.

Unfortunately, the only carbon life forms likely to gobble up copious amounts of "Black Salty" bait are the ones that carry wallets.

You see, a "Black Salty" is nothing more than a goldfish with a make-up job.

Don't believe me, though. After getting some inquiries from anglers, I called a biologist who knows his way around Latin names.

"They are nothing more than goldfish - Carassius auratus - selectively bred to a bronze color," says Marty Gary, a biologist with the Department of Natural Resources. "It's being marketed as something other than a goldfish."

Now, there's nothing illegal in using goldfish as bait. The fish that usually call a fishbowl home can be found on Susquehanna Flats and the Patapsco River. They're hardy enough to stand up to the benign neglect of school children and the salinity found in the upper bay.

According to the Black Salty Web site, the baitfish "is specially bred and pond-raised by I.F. Anderson Farms, Inc., a 50-year-old bait hatchery located in the scenic little town of Lonoke, Ark. I.F. Anderson biologists and staff utilize a proprietary, patent-pending process that enables the Black Salty to stay alive on the hook in saltwater for up to 1 1/2 hours or, depending on salinity, even longer."

I.F. Anderson says Black Saltys are goldfish that have been bred through five generations to get the color and resistance to salt water. "They'll last as long as you will if you treat them right, feed them and change their water. They're the hardiest fish on the planet," says Neal Anderson, son of the hatchery's founder.

Gushes the company Web site: "The bottom line? If it swims in saltwater and eats baitfish, you can catch it on a Black Salty."

But don't take the company's word for its wonderfulness. Says the Web site: "After months of coping with some of the toughest weather conditions the Texas Coast has witnessed in decades, veteran outdoor writer, photographer and broadcaster Larry Bozka summarizes his Black Salty field-testing experiences with a uniquely entertaining report in Saltwater Texas."

Sure enough, go to the "Saltwater Angler" Web site, and there's Bozka, singing the praises of the revolutionary bait: "Working with friends, pro guides and partners in the outdoor press, I fished the Black Salty side-by-side with the longtime local favorites ... shrimp, finger mullet, shad and yes, even the venerated live croaker. Never, not once, did we catch fewer fish on the Black Salty. More often than not we caught more ... often, substantially more. Results on offshore waters were no different."

Of course, in addition to his busy journalism schedule, Bozka also finds time to be the director of sales and marketing for Black Salty, which is known in Arkansas as the largest minnow farm in the nation.

The price of five pounds of Black Salty bait is $75, which includes FedEx shipping. Local dealers include their own markup.

Some Maryland shops will probably sell the Black Saltys. But should you abandon old standbys for the new kid on the block?

Probably not.

Instead of listening to Bozka or his employer, listen to Gary, a home-grown expert who grew up fishing the Patapsco:

"If the company is really trying to market something that will survive saltwater, the good old bull minnow is capable. It can handle salinity up to 132 parts per thousand. It's incredibly adaptable and more affordable. It seems to me Maryland already has a far superior product."

I agree with him. But you know what? If you think Black Saltys will put more fish on your hook, have at it.

Menhaden protection

Outdoors lovers demanded action and Maryland officials finally stiffened their spines and demanded protection for menhaden, the oily little fish that feeds the big fish and filters the Chesapeake.

As a result, the menhaden management board of the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission has ordered study of a proposal to cap the industrial harvest of the fish.

A fish factory on Virginia's Northern Neck grinds the fish into Omega-3 oil for health supplements and for animal food and cosmetics. As a result of that industry, menhaden have been the highest poundage landings of any fish species on the East Coast.

The menhaden board will meet in May to review the draft and then put it out there for public comment.

Make sure your voice is heard. Don't let these guys wiggle off the hook.

Relaxing flounder rules

Good news for flounder fishermen. The ASMFC's flounder management board approved Maryland's proposal for setting creel and minimum size, which most likely will result in a relaxation of the rules.

Right now, Maryland has a 16-inch minimum size, three fish per person per day creel limit, with no closed season.

"We are in the catbird seat on the East Coast and will be able to go below 16 inches," says Gary. "Clearly, 15 1/2 inches and three or four fish is going to be an option."

DNR expects to have posted on its Web site no later than midweek the size and creel options for the summer flounder season. A 10-day to two-week public comment period will follow.

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