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Anglers betting on an early spawn

Anglers betting on an early spawn
George Turner of Annapolis knows how to handle the Chesapeake winters. He caught a 32-pound mahi off Miami last month. (George Turner / courtesy)

Curse the weather, praise the weather. Welcome to the last gasps of winter, I suppose, in which we've seen some pretty crazy fluctuations in weather.

Speaking of crazy, I read that for the first time in almost 150 years Chicago had no snow in January and February. Now, that's nuts. Last year, I spied my first osprey on this very day, March 9, cruising along the Corsica River shoreline. I have yet to spot one of our fish hawking friends, but a couple of human friends told me they have. In some areas cherry and dogwood trees are bursting at near blossom, perhaps not such thing good when temperatures are expected to dip back into the 20s by the weekend.

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It's also a funny time of year in the sense that while you really want to get out and fish on those pretty days the clock is ticking to attend to the numerous boat and home chores that have piled up over the winter. Rather do them now than when the weather turns nice for the season, I say. I'm seriously considering living in one of those Tiny Homes, which presumably would significantly cut my domestic maintenance workload, and, by extension, add more fishing time.

Many fishermen have already fixed their gaze upon the Free State's Spring Trophy rockfish season — prepping boats, rigging lures and getting gear ready for Opening Day. I think the "catch & keep" season will kick off on April 15 with the same regs as last year. I haven't heard an official word from the fine folks in the Fishing and Boating Services over at the Tawes Building confirming creels or dates, but I imagine that's coming any day now. Most anglers I've spoken to this week are betting on an early spawn. Maybe, though a lot can happen between now and mid-April, and two straight weekends of frigid temperatures doesn't convince me of that.

Yellow perch runs are either finished or very near their end in most of the tributaries. Bad weather hamstrung me from getting my full dose of ned cathing. Catch-and-release striper anglers continue to do pretty good jigging soft plastics or trolling bucktails and parachutes or similar rigs. Each winter it seems more rockfish never even leave the Chesapeake Bay.

If it's true that the return of the ospreys is a harbinger of the approaching spring — March 20 is the actual day of our vernal equinox — than so too can it be said of the return of Bud Hein. The proprietor of Fishbones has opened his Pasadena-based fishing shop for the season. Currently he's closed on Mondays, but come April 1 he'll go to seven days a week. He tells me the yellow perch run in the Magothy is kaput, but the whites are staging and the pickerel fishing is still pretty good, especially on sunnier days. He adds that catch-and-release rock fishermen are doing pretty good at the Brandon Shores discharge and around structure at the bay bridges. On a related note, Captain Mark Galasso of Tuna the Tide Charters wants folks to know he's doing a seminar on "Mid Bay Striper Fishing" on March 18 at the Susquehanna Tackle Show in Columbia, Pennsylvania. The event starts at noon.

I also caught up with Jim Bieler at Mary's Bait & Tackle and he echoed what I've heard a fair bit this week: "Not a lot of reports due to the cold weather. It's about the same as last week. The ponds in Beverly Beach are getting a little better. They are catching a few white perch, but it is not on fire by any means." I suggested to Edgewater's Jeff Sykes to try some white perch fishing last weekend, and he in fact did try fishing Beverly Beach ponds with minnows. Then he fished the South River oyster beds in 10 to 12 feet, also with minnows. No luck at either place.

"White perch and catfish are snapping in the Nanticoke and Pocomoke rivers," says Steve Doctor, a biologist with the state's Fishing and Boating Services who is based in Ocean City. He adds that tautog fishing is "slow but getting some really large ones, (though) running for them, not sure how far (out)." Also on the coast, Capt. Monty Hawkins of the party boat Morning Star told me he has a few offshore trips planned to target Boston mackerel. In fact, he ran one this week — "It sure ain't good mackerel fishing just yet, but we do have a sign!" he said, referring to the fact they did catch some macks, including a triple header landed by Gary Umpof of Berlin.

FIRING TO BE DISCUSSED: I've been told that state lawmakers intend to hold a joint House and Senate hearing to explore the dismissal of state crab biologist Brenda Davis this Monday at 2:30 p.m. in the legislative hearing room. One follower of such things — and it's a good thing he is, since I'm not — told me this type of meeting is unprecedented as far as he knew; he's had a keen eye on fishery matters in the General Assembly for decades.

Both DNR chief Mark Belton and the head of its Dave Blazer reportedly have been invited, though at time of my deadline DNR spokesman Stephen Schatz hadn't returned an email to confirm that. I cannot imagine there won't be at least some political posturing, but let's hope for the sake of all involved the discussion focuses on the broader issues at play here.

Since my Sunday column I've fielded numerous emails asking me where the state's leading sport fishing groups and the citizen-led Sport Fish Advisory Commission — comprised of 17 individuals who represent various constituencies in recreational fisheries — come down on the issue. I reached out and have been told they've discussed it, but so far I've received no official response. I wonder if those leaders who have remained silent on this issue, perhaps hoping it'd be handled via "back channels," may now feel motivated to offer an opinion now that it's in the public's gaze? Maybe. Or maybe not.

Email outdoors news, photos and calendar listings to Chris Dollar at cdollar@cdollaroutdoors.com.

Outdoors Calendar

March 13: Pasadena Sportfishing Group monthly meeting. Simon Brown of Maryland's DNR to discuss the 2017 rockfish regulations. Earleigh Heights VFC, 161 Ritchie ighway, Severna Park. Doors open at 6 p.m., meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. Free and open to the public. Visit pasadenasportfishing.com.

March 15: MSSA Annapolis Chapter Meeting. Eric Zlokovitz of the Maryland DNR will discuss the 2017 rockfish regulations. Starts 7 p.m., American Legion Post #7, 1905 Crownsville Road. Free and open to public.

March 18: Left Kreh's TieFest. Kent Narrows Yacht Club, Chester. Show hours 10 a.m.-4 p.m., includes casting demonstrations and more than 30 fly tiers. $10 for adults, kids 16 and under enter free.

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March 23: Annapolis Boat Sales hosts Capt. "Walleye" Pete Dahlberg. Light tackle techniques for trophy rockfish. 1725 South Piney Road, Chester MD 21619. RSVP to jack@annapolisboatsales.com.

March 25: 3rd annual Hunting Legacy Dinner & Benefit, hosted by the Maryland Hunting Coalition. Noon-4 p.m., Martins Westminster. Tickets at mdhuntingcoalition.org.

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March 28: Angler's Night Out, hosted by Boatyard Bar & Grill, in cooperation with CCA MD & Chesapeake Bay Magazine. Feature film is "Providence." Happy hour & appetizer specials from 5 p.m.-7 p.m., film starts at 7 p.m. Boatyard Bar & Grill, 4th Street & Severn Avenue, Eastport.

April 15: Boatyard Bar & Grill Opening Day "Catch and Release Rockfish Tournament." Registration is open at boatyardbarandgrill.com. Contact boatyardevent@gmail.com or (410) 216-6206 with questions.

April 20: CCA MD Annapolis Chapter Banquet. CBF's Merril Center, 6 Herndon Avenue, Annapolis. 6 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Email mkupfer@ccamd.org for details.

April 21-23: Bay Bridge Boat Show. Details and tickets at annapolisboatshows.com/bay-bridge-boat-show.

May 5-7: MSSA's Championship on the Chesapeake. Save $25 with early registration. Details at mssa.net.

May 6: Small Boat Offshore Seminar, hosted by CCA MD Baltimore Chapter. Loew's Annapolis Hotel, 126 West Street, Annapolis.

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