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Fishing ACROSS MARYLAND

THE BALTIMORE SUN

This is for all the anglers who sigh at the end of a fishing trip and say, "I wish this day could last forever."

It almost can.

Fishing across Maryland from sunrise to sunrise wrings out every last bit of the experience, presenting a diverse sampler of the state's angling opportunities, from swift-moving freshwater rivers to the tidal waters of the Chesapeake Bay.

A stunt? For sure. A challenge? Definitely. But we do it, as Everest climber George Mallory explained, "because it is there."

Besides, if you embrace a hobby steeped in bragging rights and tall tales, as fellow angler Angel Bolinger and I do, fishing across Maryland ranks as an original.

Bolinger and I are two of the 12 million U.S. women who fish. She is a Maryland Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist, and I keep an eye on the outdoors for The Sun.

Worm juice, broken rods and flying fish all had bit roles in our 24-hour adventure. But the starring role went to Maryland itself, with its 77 species of freshwater, tidal and saltwater fish.

We chose six spots, three west of the Chesapeake Bay and three on the eastern side, and lined up a cast of local experts to help us catch one legal-sized fish at each location before moving on. With a driving time of 11 hours, we knew we had 12 hours to fish and just 60 minutes for the finer things in life, like bathroom breaks and food.

Sun photographer Andre Chung and his 8-year-old son, Kian Kelley-Chung, joined us.

We awoke before dawn last month at our westernmost spot, and, fueled with caffeine from the motel coffee maker, we were off.

Deep Creek Lake

"It's the fishing divas," booms guide Brent Nelson, welcoming us to his home water, Deep Creek Lake.

Nelson is a bear-sized man who lives in Columbia and runs a graphic arts business. In his other, preferred life, he is a fishing guide.

As our first partner in "Fish Across Maryland," he is eager to get us fishing. "I've never had such pressure," he says, laughing while launching his boat.

To increase our chances of success, Bolinger and I split up. She goes with Nelson and Kian, while I stay dockside to fish with our secret weapon -- worms.

The fishing industry has spent billions of dollars trying to duplicate with metal and plastic what nature got right the first time. Bugs, worms and small water critters will almost always outperform stuff made by man.

At 6:30 a.m., the sounds of reveille dot the shoreline -- lights come on, dogs bark, cars start.

I watch my three partners casting to underwater grass beds and fallen trees, where fish like to hang out. A slight tug on my line draws my focus back to the dock, but it's too late. A fish has picked my bait clean.

I bait up again and notice that there are fish almost directly below my feet. Instead of casting, I drop the worm straight down and watch a bluegill dart in and grab it.

A minute later, with the fish on the dock, I reach for my two-way radio: "Diva 2, this is Diva 1, come on back. I've got one."

As we release the fish, Nelson talks about his favorite fishing hole.

"The menagerie of species is what makes Deep Creek great," he says. "You have everything from trout to bluegills to bass -- largemouth and smallmouth -- to crappie to pickerel to perch. There's something for everyone, especially kids."

Later at breakfast, our waitress makes a face when Chung announces: "I'm going to the bathroom to wash the worm juice off."

That was our first and last sit-down meal of the day.

Potomac River

A 90-minute drive east gets us to Williamsport, where DNR biologist John Mullican waits with his boat at the Potomac River launch ramp.

Bolinger and Kian go for a boat ride with Mullican. Me and my worms head for the shady banks of Conococheague Creek, which empties into the Potomac.

The rising heat and humidity are enough to poach a fish. The worm does its job, though, enticing a bluegill hybrid onto my hook. With my colleagues beyond radio range, I hike up the bank and fish the C&O; Canal for good measure.

At noon, the bells of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church begin to play a hymn from my childhood. I slow my rhythm, cranking my reel to match the beat of "Come Thou Almighty King," and find to my surprise that I remember the lyrics. I try them out, singing softly as I catch and release small fish.

My friends return an hour later, fishless. Luckily, my small contribution keeps our streak alive.

Mullican talks about "the nation's river."

"If you soak a worm in the Potomac, you'll catch something. What makes this such a great fishery is it's so accessible and it can be fished year-round," he says. "It's 184 miles from Cumberland to Georgetown and there's boat ramps scattered along that length. It's popular for canoeists and kayakers, and you can fish from the banks."

Gunpowder Falls

We have to make an unscheduled stop. At Williamsport, I snapped a rod tip while trying to disengage my fishing rod from the car.

Bolinger and I duck into a big-box sporting goods store and emerge with an Ugly Stick, one of the planet's most indestructible rods.

A drive east and around the Baltimore Beltway gets us to Monkton by 3 p.m. Theaux LeGardeur, owner of Backwater Angler fly-fishing shop, takes us to the Bluemount Road bridge, a well-known trout hangout on the Gunpowder Falls.

LeGardeur is optimistic. "We'll have a trout before you can get that camera out," he tells Chung.

Fishermen coming back to their cars add to the chorus of yea-saying. But the fishing gods that snapped my rod tip are not through with us.

We can see the fish. They come out of the shadows to follow our offerings of yellow and tan feathers. But they are not hungry, and so they turn and swim back to the darkness.

We fish hard. We try everything in our tackle boxes. LeGardeur hoists Kian to his shoulders to get out to deeper water.

But in the end we are skunked. And for good measure, the fishing gods have gobbled up at least four of our lures.

"The Gunpowder is a tough river," says LeGardeur graciously. "There is nothing to be embarrassed about."

We hit the road satisfied that we have given it our best shot. The cool dampness of the Gunpowder lingers on our skin for many miles.

Chesapeake Bay

Maybe the fishing gods have decided we have suffered enough. There is no traffic on the Bay Bridge, the sky is turning the soft shades of blue and pink that precede a beautiful sunset, and our next fishing partner is an old friend of ours and the Chesapeake Bay.

Sherman Baynard has his 17-foot boat tied up at Kent Narrows and he knows where the fish are.

"I told them, 'Just stay put,' " he jokes as we pull away from the dock.

Within minutes, Baynard has us drifting above an underwater carpet of fish.

Kian is catching fish on almost every cast, his smile getting bigger by the minute.

Baynard likes to see people catching fish. As a founding member of the Maryland chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association, he has fought for years to protect the fish in the bay and its tributaries.

Osprey drop from the sky to do their own, more efficient, fishing as the sun slides toward the horizon, taking the heat of the day with it. We catch a dozen white perch for every 10-inch striped bass, or rockfish, we reel in.

"If you had told me you wanted to catch a legal-size rockfish, we would have had problems," says Baynard, who worries that pollution and overfishing are harming Maryland's state fish. "They aren't there the way they used to be."

It is the only disturbing moment in a glorious evening.

Smithville Lake

Have you ever seen a largemouth bass in flight?

With launch capabilities that could rival NASA's, I put one Micropterus salmoides in a sub-orbital trajectory with no more than a sliver of graphite, a strand of nylon and a speck of steel. But let me back up.

I can honestly say that although I fished Caroline County's Smithville Lake, I couldn't pick it out of a police lineup of Eastern Shore ponds. That's what happens when you bait up at midnight with only a whisper of moon in the sky and your sleepless brain in meltdown mode.

The fish are out there. The sounds of them percolating and sipping bugs off the surface is the counterpoint to the deep bass-fiddle twanging of the bullfrogs.

"At least something else is awake," I mutter to myself before first one, then two headlamps click on, casting anemic off-white beams that get swallowed up by pitch-black nothingness.

Jason Willey, a Caroline County native who grew up fishing in Smithville, pushes off in his aluminum rowboat with Kian. They disappear into the darkness.

On the dock, Bolinger and I pull out one of our last two worms and split it. Both lines go into the water. Moments later, there's an unmistakable twitch on my line.

"If I catch this fish right now, we can take a nap," I think.

In a race between dulled senses, my muscles beat my brain and let fly with a mighty yank to set the hook. A footlong fish, its white belly glistening in the light of my headlamp, flies past my head, over my shoulder and back into the water.

The darkness hides my red face. We decide to move to a large pool of fast-moving water just below the lake spillway.

With his flashlight, Kian discovers a stinkpot turtle, small eels and baby catfish in the still water along the shore. We all marvel at the Milky Way above and the constellations normally obscured by city lights.

With minutes to go before we must leave, Willey baits up our last worm, attaches a bobber and commands us to shine all of our lights to where he is casting.

Sure enough, it works. A tiny bluegill attaches itself to Willey's hook. We are happy campers.

Assateague Island

The end is near. We race for Assateague State Park like exhausted marathoners.

But we are early to meet our final partners, so it's nap time. Mosquitoes and the sound of neighing ponies force us to keep the car windows rolled up, which creates a terrarium effect.

Before we can get too uncomfortable, our partners arrive. Allen Sklar owns Bike World in Ocean City and the state Atlantic striped bass record -- 52 pounds, 14.4 ounces -- which he set in May. Ron Franks is the boss of all bosses at DNR and an avid surf fisherman.

"Of all the forms of fishing, I prefer this," says Franks, who also owns a fly-fishing shop. "It's a respite, and you never know what's going to be on the other end of the line. You go trout fishing, you're going to get trout. You go bass fishing, you're going to catch bass. Here? Who knows."

We arrive at low tide, with the pink-tinged sky a backdrop for the soon-to-rise sun. Sklar brings with him his mentor, 76-year-old Capt. Mac Simpson, who has fished this spot for more than 40 years.

The big surf rods are baited with combinations of squid, sand fleas and bloodworms, and everyone slings their offerings toward the breakers.

If every sport is supposed to include a cool-down period, this is ours. Beachgoers and the heat of the day are still hours off. An idea we had four years ago -- a fishathon across the state -- has made the jump from bar napkin to reality. We watch Kian frolic in the surf -- a newly minted fisherman.

And when Simpson catches a spiny dogfish just before 6:30 a.m., we are off the hook and off the clock.

When you go

Getting there: There's very little that's tricky about this trip. We used a Maryland map supplied by state government and available at all the state's major welcome centers and rest areas. The Maryland / Delaware Atlas and Gazetteer is a good backup for the rural roads used as access to the Potomac River and Smithville Lake.

Maryland fishing: The best source for basic fishing information, including fishing hot spots and a gear checklist, is the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Web site: www.dnr .state.md.us / fisheries. The site also provides information about fishing licenses and prices.

Information: The Maryland Office of Tourism is a clearinghouse of information on dining, lodging and other attractions across the state. 866-639-3526; www.mdisfun.org.

-- Candus Thomson

Fishing across Maryland

1. Deep Creek Lake, Garrett County

2. Potomac River, near Williamsport in Washington County

3. Gunpowder Falls, near Monkton in Baltimore County

4. Chesapeake Bay, near Kent Narrows in Queen Anne's County

5. Smithville Lake, Caroline County

6. Atlantic Ocean, at Assateague State Park in Worcester County

Photo gallery

To see more of Andre F. Chung's photographs of fishing across Maryland, go online to www.baltimore sun.com / fishingmd.

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