Volume 14, Issue 28 ~ July 13 - July 19, 2006

Burton on the Bay

By Bill Burton

Catch Bony Morone, and We’ll Give You $500

Where in this gunky Bay can he be?

Doubt not but angling will prove to be so pleasant that it will be, like virtue, a reward to itself.

—Izaak Walton: 1593-1683

In recent days, I’ve pretty much memorized the above advice of, shall we say, the world’s first writer who found readers interested in his wetting-the-hook knowledge and experiences. He invented outdoor writing.

Other than suggesting keep on trying, what words could be more appropriate to say to those on the thus-far fruitless hunt of Bony Morone? Be a bounty hunter, and have fun being one.

To the best of our knowledge, both here at Bay Weekly and headquarters of the Maryland $Million Fishing Challenge, Bony Morone is still at large, and we have not a clue as to his whereabouts.

He was last seen when released more than six weeks ago by a Maryland Department of Natural Resources fisheries team at some still undisclosed location in tidal waters of the Chesapeake Bay complex. That covers an awful lot of water. At present, dirty water.

Much has happened since Bony Morone, wearing a dark green plastic tag, reentered the brine after being netted and marked for the department’s second annual angling contest. Near-record rainfalls and runoffs have added much fresh water to the Chesapeake, also untold tons of sediment — enough that any sensible fish would think twice before opening its mouth for fear of ingesting enough grit to sink him to the Bay’s floor.

Bony Morone, a white perch, I remind you, is Bay Weekly’s prize fish in the $Million Challenge. We are sponsoring him to the tune of $500; anyone lucky enough to catch him wins the price on his head. But, considering what’s been going on of late, where can he be?

Bringing in the Bucks

Since the beginning of the tournament, 107 tagged fish have been reported caught across the state, with largemouth bass representing more than half the total. Also most catches are made in waters other than the Bay, which is more than a clue as to how some Chesapeake fishing is since the big rainstorms.

Get this: as of July 11, not yet has a single tagged white perch been caught.

DNR’s Marty Gary tells me that about 300 tagged perch were released, and he’s also wondering why at least one of them hasn’t turned up. But Marty doesn’t have too much time for speculating why perch and hardheads don’t seem hungry for baited hooks; he’s too busy doing the paperwork on tags that are being turned in by anglers reeling in fish from freshwaters.

When I reached him at 9:15 on Monday evening, Marty had just got off the phone after talking to a very excited 13-year-old Andrew Day of Cumberland, who cranked in a tagged 15-inch largemouth bass from Rocky Gap Lake at Rocky Gap State Park.

“It’s worth working overtime to hear a youngster’s reaction when you tell him he will have a chance to win a million bucks at the big drawing in September,” said Gary. “His father was just as excited; I could hear him in the background.”

Andrew could also win an instant prize for his bass; many fish, like our Bony Morone, are also worth cash or merchandise valued at $100 or more. By week’s end all the paperwork will be completed to determine those winners. Among them will be a Smithsburg couple who have already won three slots for instant rewards and chances at the million bucks.

It’s a story that only fishermen can believe. Mike Twigg and wife Tori were camping at Cunningham Falls State Park when they decided to go bass’n at the lake there. At a fallen tree along the shoreline, Mike made a cast with a red plastic worm on a Carolina rig and reeled in a largemouth of about 31⁄2 pounds. It had a dark green tag.

Tori made her cast and reeled in another bass of about the same size — also tagged. Elsewhere on the lake, Mike got another smaller bass, also tagged.

Gunky Fishing

Back to our prize fish, Bony Morone. He’s not the only white perch anglers find difficult to locate. The past three weeks, Bay perch’n hasn’t been what it should be this time of year. It’s catch ’em one day, hunt ’em the next. They’re moving about, and not always where they should be moving.

It was time for them to be leaving the tributaries en masse for the Bay when the wet stuff started, and the travel pattern has since been in disarray. The expected big slug of fish has not taken up residence at the Bay Bridge yet. More than a few fishermen figure Bay waters became so gunky that perch retreated back into the tributaries where waters are a bit more clear.

Capt. Ed Darwin, who fishes out of Annapolis, says the catching is hit and miss — and when Ed gets misses, something’s wrong. He excels at perch fishing; soon as his rockfish parties catch their limit, he heads to the bridge to cap a day with bottom fishing. I’ve never seen a better catcher of perch than him. Never.

In June of 1972, when Tropical Storm Agnes struck, floodwaters pouring into the Bay were measured at 1.1 million cubic feet a second. It was at least five weeks before any decent catches of perch were made in the Bay’s coffee-colored waters. Our latest June storm sent nearly half as much water through Conowingo Dam at its peak, so probably we’re getting close to half the 32 million tons of muck washed into the Bay during Agnes.

Thick waters can’t be too comfortable for Bony Morone; think of all the grit washing through his vulnerable gills. Like the Oakies in the Dust Bowl of the ’30s, he’s probably scouting around for a more hospitable environment.

But, wherever Whitey and his tag are, he has other things to worry about. With the Bay so dirty, many fishermen targeting stripers have found the best catching comes to those live-lining perch as bait. Thus, there’s added pressure to catch them so they can be added to a bigger hook, tossed back into the drink in hopes hungry stripers will notice them amidst all the silt.

Friend Alan Doelp says if he’s lucky enough to catch Bony Morone — or any other tagged perch — he’ll think twice before heading back to the docks to see if he has a winner. “If I can be that lucky, I’ll consider shooting for the moon and use him for bait. You’ve gotta ride a winning streak,” he says.

The dust that once was old Izaak Walton must be turning over in the grave to think that more than 300 years after he cast his last fly, fishermen would be thinking more about monetary rewards than pleasure and virtue. Enough said.

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