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When nature gives you a gift, take it.

In winter, when the gift is a day in the 50s, that means playing hooky, even if it's just a few hours stolen from a day chockablock with work obligations and holiday to-do lists.

But what to do? I could get arrested for drinking in a state park or walking carelessly at Loch Raven Reservoir. That would keep me from having to work the rest of the day - and probably for the rest of my life.

Last Tuesday morning, my mind raced like Vanna White's fortune wheel before - click, click, click - stopping at the pie wedge marked "fishing."

But where?

Again, the mental wheel spun before stopping at Carroll County's Piney Run, a popular spot in summer that's nearly deserted when we hit the last page of the calendar. With fog draping the tops of the bare trees, I parked by the gate and walked down to the water's edge.

The Department of Natural Resources Web site calls Piney Run "arguably one of the best" fisheries in the state, with largemouth bass, yellow perch, crappie and channel catfish calling the 300-acre reservoir home.

I wanted to catch some bluegills, the fish of my childhood. I opened a jar of fish eggs, pulled out a red-and-yellow bobber and baited up.

It wasn't long before the bobber took a dunking. Too quick for me, the unseen fish picked the hook clean. The second cast was a repeat of No. 1. But the third time, nature took pity on me and gave me another gift: a palm-sized fish, quivering with life and icy cold to the touch. Quickly flipping it onto its back, I slipped the hook out of its mouth and sent the bluegill on its way.

Less than an hour (and two more bluegills) later, it was time for a run down Liberty Road to Baltimore to begin a workday delightfully delayed.

Truly disgusting

Seeing a waterway alive with fish only makes this next part hard to type. As we reported in Thursday's editions, another of Maryland's trout streams is under attack by the invasive algae didymo, which blankets vibrant streams and suffocates the life out of them.

The Savage River in Garrett County has been infected, just as Gunpowder Falls was last year.

The perpetrator in both cases is the same: anglers who tracked tiny particles of the algae on dirty boots and waders from one place to another. It takes only a cell or two to get things started.

"The public needs to know that this is a potential disaster," says Jonathan McKnight, DNR's invasive-species crusader. "It doesn't mean we're doomed. It means we all must be more vigilant. Each stream that doesn't have it is worth protecting."

Before the Gunpowder sighting, few folks in Maryland knew about didymo, nicknamed "rock snot" for its disgusting appearance. But in the case of the Savage, it could hardly be called a sneak attack.

Last year, warnings that included how to prevent its spread went out on the DNR Web site and on signs near trout streams and in tackle shops. The Baltimore Sun and other media outlets echoed the warning. And, as it turns out, stopping didymo is almost as easy as wiping your feet. Scrub boots and waders in a solution of salt and water. Air-dry equipment. Repeat after every fishing trip.

McKnight built simple washing stations and installed them at popular access spots.

You'd think anglers would step up to the plate. But no.

Someone or several someones too lazy or irresponsible to do the right thing gave didymo a free ride to the Savage. Now biologists worry it could spread to such precious waterways as Big Hunting Creek in Frederick County and the North Branch of the Potomac River and the Youghiogheny River in Garrett County.

Didymo mats develop and bloom in late winter and early spring, so the clock's ticking.

No one really knows the ultimate impact didymo could have on the state's trout streams.

"It's an experiment that hasn't been run," McKnight says. "But what's bad for the streams is bad for the fish."

He has built another dozen washing stations and will spend the next several weeks distributing them, doubling the number on the Gunpowder and filling gaps at other streams.

What McKnight really needs is an army of volunteers to maintain the stations and to act as public scolds when they see anglers not washing up.

You know who you are. You're the folks who enjoy spending a few hours at the fly-tying bench or going to a Trout Unlimited gathering to tell fishing fibs or attending a fishing show.

The stations need to be visited about once every 10 days to refresh the saltwater solution and make sure someone didn't steal the brush. Stewardship takes 15 minutes, tops.

"The longer we hold this stuff off, the better off we are," McKnight says. "We're buying time so that we can learn more about it and fight back."

To contact McKnight, call 410-260-8539 or write him at

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