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Anglers testing new waters

The Baltimore Sun

Just two weeks after snowflakes flew and one week beyond the deluge that pummeled the region, Maryland anglers awoke yesterday to a picture-perfect start to the spring striped bass season.

Hundreds of boats bobbed in the sparkling Chesapeake Bay, which glimmered like a field of diamonds under a brilliant sun.

The scenery was a soothing balm for many anglers who greeted dawn at the gas pumps and gasped at the prices.

Jim Walker watched the numbers spin at the Awa on U.S. 50, just west of the entrance to Sandy Point State Park. Gasoline filled the empty 200-gallon pit in the belly of his 27-foot boat, Wave Walker. Even as he listened to his wallet empty, Walker remained enthusiastic.

"Everyone wants to get out on opening day. It's a tradition," the Jessup resident said. "It's not like this is Miami, where it's fishing 365 days."

This was a day of new rules and rulers, as the state adjusted the season to prevent the overfishing that marred the past two seasons and threatened to curtail this one before it even started.

Through May 15, anglers are allowed to keep one fish each day between 28 inches and 35 inches or one fish 41 inches or greater. Striped bass - also known as rockfish - that fall into the "slot" between 35 inches and 41 inches must be released. Fisheries biologists hope the formula keeps the state from exceeding its 30,000-fish quota, half of what anglers caught in each of the past two years.

It was feared that rule change - which came after the 2007 fishing guide was published - might get some anglers in hot water.

Sorting it out fell to a handful of Natural Resources Police officers who crisscrossed the bay in small patrol boats to inspect both catches and safety gear.

NRP 824, a white Boston Whaler, glided up to a boater in distress just south of the Bay Bridge. Just minutes after launching from Sandy Point, George Wagner's boat was dead in the water, the victim of a faulty battery.

While waiting for a friend to deliver another battery, Wagner good-naturedly submitted to a safety inspection by Cpl. Greg Certeza and Sgt. Beth McVeigh.

Pulling out life jackets, flares, a fire extinguisher and even a whistle, Wagner passed the test with flying colors, but slipped up on the bonus round, when he couldn't find his boat registration card.

After issuing a warning and passing along an emergency assistance number, the officers were on their way to the next boat. Cliff and Eric Dorsey, middle-aged brothers from Frederick, were happy to open their cooler for inspection.

"Just food and ice," Cliff Dorsey said. "I wish it was fish. Is anyone catching them?"

It wasn't Rich Einterman, a Pennsylvania angler who awoke in the middle of the night so that he and his friends could launch at 4 a.m., before the mob scene at the Sandy Point Marina.

"What do they look like?" he asked when Certeza asked if he had any fish. "I lost an $18 lure. All it caught was bottom."

Not all patrolling occurred on the water. Cpl. Cameron Brown and Officer Rodney Smith walked the beach at Sandy Point, stopping to admire the first catch of the day and the first striped bass of Adam Weber's life.

Weber, 20, and his dad, Paul, left their Glen Burnie home at 3 a.m. "to get a good spot." They made their first casts at 6 a.m., and Adam Weber landed his 28-inch fish less than two hours later.

"He's skunking me, but I'm proud of him," Paul Weber said, with a twinkle in his eye. "I taught him everything he knows."

Back on the water, Certeza and McVeigh measured fish, dispensed advice and even showed one fisherman how to use his new global positioning system - which cleared up the mystery of why he was having trouble finding the mouth of Herring Bay, when he was at least five miles north at the mouth of the Rhode River.

"Thanks," the grateful man said.

"We see it all the time," McVeigh said when the angler was out of earshot. "I'm surprised we don't see more."

In one of the final stops of the afternoon, the two officers confiscated from a charter boat a fish that fell within the slot.

But the fish still ended up on the dinner table ... at an Anne Arundel County food program.

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