As a Baltimore firefighter watched from Fort McHenry's shore Thursday morning, the second batch of Diamond Jim striped bass slipped off a small boat and into the Patapsco River. The one wearing the neon green tag is worth $20,000 cash and a $5,000 diamond this month.
"I may have to come back at lunchtime with a fishing rod," he told Department of Natural Resources staff.
Either he was just joking or he rolled snake eyes just like every angler since the inaugural Maryland Fishing Challenge in 2005.
Unlike last year, when someone caused a stir by catching a tagged striped bass just after the monthly deadline, things have been quiet. The 21 tagged stripers released in June -- and the $10,000 cash prize and a $5,000 diamond -- went untouched, upping this month's cash and diamond reward. If anglers come up empty in July, the DNR will release 21 more striped bass off Solomons next month and raise the cash prize to $25,000.
With two months left in the contest, more than 1,000 people have qualified for the grand-prize drawing (a pickup truck or a boat and trailer) by catching a citation-sized fish from one of 60 species.
The contest ends Sept. 1. Winners will be chosen Sept. 13.
Battle against didymo
Like Blanche DuBois, Maryland's point man on invasive species acknowledges that he's relying "on the kindness of strangers" when it comes to fighting the algae didymo.
The invader -- popularly nicknamed rock snot -- was discovered in Gunpowder Falls by anglers earlier this year. In response, DNR biologist Jonathan McKnight set up 12 wader washing stations along the state's most popular trout streams to prevent the spread of the matlike plant, which suffocates trout habitat and food.
He would like to set up three more stations to help ensure anglers don't accidentally transport rock snot on their waders and gear from one stream to another.
The problem is, McKnight is a one-man SWAT team, and he needs help to keep the stations stocked with salt to make a saline wash, a plastic pan to hold the liquid, and brushes to do the scrubbing.
The combination of warmer weather and vigilance by anglers seems to have stopped rock snot dead in its tracks.
"It likes cold rivers, so right now it's doing lousy, and we're not seeing a biological blitzkrieg," says McKnight, noting that he'll wait for fall's cooler weather before proclaiming temporary containment.
And that's the sobering reality of rock snot: It cannot be eradicated.
In the meantime, McKnight is looking for volunteers to keep an eye on washing stations along Gunpowder Falls and the Savage, Casselman and Youghiogheny rivers and the North Branch of the Potomac.
"I'll supply the salt. I'll supply the buckets. I'll supply the brushes. If they could just go by once a week, that's all we need," he says. "You've heard of the Riverkeepers. Well, these people could be guardian angels of the rivers."
McKnight's number is 410-260-8539.
Scaup getting scarce
The Atlantic Flyway Council will meet in two weeks in Princeton, N.J., to sort through data and come up with recommendations for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on waterfowl hunting seasons.
For one species of duck -- scaup -- the news is particularly grim.
The scaup population has been on a long, slow decline from an estimated 7 million in 1983 to 3.5 million last year, the third lowest on record.
The National Audubon Society, which has the duck on its watch list, believes its future might be decided in the next decade.
For those reasons, it's likely that federal wildlife officials, who began imposing hunting restrictions in 1999, will tack on some more.
Scaup don't make up much of Maryland's total, so cuts won't seem harsh. Of the 164,800 ducks killed by Maryland waterfowlers last season, only 9,800 were scaup.
Many experts believe the long-term decline might be related to habitat and climate changes. But a group of Canadian researchers has found some evidence that scaup may be falling victim to their diet, which contains a heavy dose of zebra mussels.
As they filter water from the Great Lakes, the mussels ingest selenium, an industrial byproduct, which might be disrupting the ducks' ability to reproduce, biologists at Canada's Long Point Waterfowl and Wetlands Research Fund say.
"We must prepare to take action to conserve declining scaup populations to ensure we can provide hunting opportunities in future seasons," said H. Dale Hall, Fish and Wildlife director, during a visit last week to Anne Arundel County.
"Hunters are conservationists first, and we know they'll support any steps that must be taken."
In the hunt
The Maryland Waterfowler's Association is sponsoring two hunts during November's youth waterfowl season.
Kids 15 and under should write an essay of 200 words or fewer explaining why they want to participate. The deadline is Sept. 1. Two winners will be chosen Sept. 14.
The winners need to be accompanied by a parent or an adult 21 or older.
E-mail the essay to email@example.com (include "youth essay" in subject line) or mail it to: MDWFA Youth Hunt, 1916 Crain Highway, Suite 16, Glen Burnie, MD 21061. Include name, age, e-mail address and phone number.