Kids have reel fun at Fishing Derby

The Baltimore Sun

Humidity wrapped the Bay Bridge in a gauzy film Thursday morning as Capt. Steve Dunn throttled up and nosed his charter boat beyond Queen Anne's Colony Marina on Kent Island and into deeper water.

Within 15 minutes, Jesse Girl was scooting across the Chesapeake, its bow pointed at the State House dome. A slight turn to port and the boat settled onto Tolly Bar, a nice piece of fishing real estate this time of year. Then 11 rods went over the side as another Joe and Donna Judge Fishing Derby began.

The half-day fishing trip for children who have lost loved ones was started several years ago by Donna Judge to honor her husband. An avid Eastern Shore sportsman who was fond of children, Joe Judge died of cancer in 1999. Donna Judge also was the driving force at Queen Anne's County Hospice and Camp New Dawn, a weekend sleepover camp on Kent Island for grieving kids.

Last year, cancer killed Donna Judge, too. She was 56.

But the fishing derby continues just as sure as early August has its dog days.

The young anglers ranged in age from 4 to 14. Some knew how to fish, and others relied on members of the state's Coastal Conservation Association to bait their hooks and unhook their fish.

The cast of helpers doesn't change a whole lot from year to year. Diane Baynard lines up the kids and handles clipboard duties to make sure everything is in place. Guys such as Joe Cap, Ed Liccione and Tony Jutchess become first mates to keep things loose and fun. Ashore, Brian Bigham took a day off work at his antiques shop to get things ready for a cookout when everyone returned, and Walt Crouse delivered hot dogs and hamburgers for the grill.

The mates tossed a dime off each side and one off the stern "for the mermaids," and the derby began in earnest.

Alex Shepherd, 14, hooked up first, winning the $42 jackpot collected by the adults on board by reeling in a good-looking spot. Christopher Canary, 7, proved to be a fishing machine as he caught No. 2 - another spot - and about a half-dozen other fish before Dunn headed for the dock. In fact, all but one youngster caught at least one fish during two hours of fishing, a pretty nifty track record.

Back on shore, in addition to lunch, each angler received a rod and reel, a goodie bag, a certificate of achievement and a photo of them with their catch.

Nice event.

New deer plan

It's hard to believe that it was just about a decade ago that the state decided to commit to paper a plan to manage the deer population.

Boy, those were the days. Gasoline was $1.25 a gallon. The Spice Girls were cranking out the hits. Parris Glendening was governor and John Griffin was secretary of the Department of Natural Resources.

Well, at least Griffin is making a comeback.

The time has come for DNR to tweak the plan.

The first step involved polling people, 1,200 of them. The survey last spring, by Responsive Management, asked more than 60 questions of the general population, hunters and landowners of more that 20 acres.

The next step is a series of meetings around the state that begins this week to let folks comment about various components of deer management, from dealing with deer-vehicle collisions to deciding whether to pursue not-ready-for-prime-time deer contraception as an alternative to hunting.

The survey, which I'm told cost about $30,000, is an interesting look at not only how each group's view of deer differs, but also how they are the same.

Although just a small minority of Maryland residents hunt, three-quarters of the general population supports hunting, according to the preliminary numbers released by Responsive Management.

Half of those polled in the general population survey believe the deer population is just right and want it to remain the same. Slightly less than half of hunters like the deer population where it is and want it to remain that way. Nearly 60 percent of the polled landowners say the population is too high, and 55 percent want it trimmed.

When it comes to lawn and crop damage, hunters are more live and let live, with 84 percent saying they would put up with yard or crop damage from deer (rather than, say, blast them to kingdom come). About two-thirds of the general population and landowners don't mind a little nibbling.

DNR gets high marks from hunters when it comes to managing the herd and gets a thumbs-up from both a majority of landowners and the general population - 22 percent of whom had no opinion on deer management.

Two-thirds of hunters surveyed said they had killed one or two deer, while just 9 percent said they had killed five or more. Forty-six percent think the annual bag limit should be two to three antlered deer.

Firearms season (38 percent) was just slightly more popular than bow season (34 percent). Black powder season is the favorite of 20 percent of the total, with crossbow season accounting for just 3 percent.

As expected hunters in Maryland's western two counties, called Region A, are calling for DNR to take its foot off the gas and allow the herd to rebound on both public and private land after an aggressive campaign to reduce the population. Better than half of those surveyed support the notion of reducing the bag limit from three antlered deer to two.

Finally, hunters opposed a single, statewide bag limit for antlered deer and also rejected the concept of a single bag limit to encompass firearms, bow and muzzleloader seasons.

The DNR public meetings in the Baltimore area will be Thursday at New Town High School, 4931 New Town Blvd. in Owings Mills, and Aug. 13 at Broadneck High School, 1265 Green Holly Drive in Annapolis. Both begin at 6:30 p.m. Five other meetings are listed on the agency's Web site, along with the ways you can mail, e-mail and phone in your comments.

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