June 18, 2008

Outdoors: Fighting Elements Pays Off for Kent Island Man

By Bill Burton

"No guts, no glory," says Mike Gombert of Queens Landing at Kent Island.

But he and his two partners wanted a black drum badly, badly enough that they made, with visibility only at about 60 feet, the long run from the Magothy to the Stone Rock off Tilghman Island. Fuel costs, snotty weather, bumpy seas or poor visibility, those on the chase for drum care not; the spawning run is short and the fish certainly not in abundance.

It's a now or never thing; snooze and you lose.

Fog, for drummers, can be a double-edged sword. While it can make the running to and from the fishing grounds a bit risky, once where the fish are, a party can conceal their catching to lessen chances of other boats crowding in for a share of the pie - and while doing so ruin things for everyone.

When drumming, if those on one boat even see a fisherman holding a bent rod, well that's where they will head. They don't wait for invitations.

Mike Gombert says he's sure no other boat around knew he hooked, landed and released a drum that he figures went about 60 pounds. The strike came after two hours fishing - and they continued fishing for another two hours before they ran out of bait. No other boats moved in, they had waters all to themselves.

Mike, and Pat Valliant, skipper and owner of the Golden Eagle, the 26-foot Grady White they fished from, and Allen Frith had taken a dozen soft crabs and some bay clams for bait to the Stone Rock where they read fish on the meter, but the catching was slow. Valliant and Frith are from Arnold.

It took Mike 15 minutes to whip the drum, which he promptly released. Three small stripers of borderline legal size also were caught and released.

"We had stripers at home from previous trips - and we had gone out only for the experience of catching a drum - we had done it before." Mike added. The drum took a soft crab bait.

Incidentally, another Mike - Mike Singleton- e-mailed me asking how one takes the big and hard scales from a drum. It took him more than an hour to scale his 55-pounder also caught at the Stone Rock last week. My answer: The traditional and easiest way to relieve the fish of its scales is with a garden hoe, no kidding. It peels 'em right off. Scrape the hoe against the grain.

Back in the late '50s, I learned bare hands and a dull bait knife can do the job, but I don't recommend it. It was back before the bridge was built connecting Assateague Island to the mainland - and three of us had missed the twice-a-day ferry and had eaten all our lunches. I managed to scale one side of the fish and we had roasted drum steaks for supper, no seasoning or anything else. I've had worse meals.

IT'S NOT A LICENSE: Fishermen and hunters are a curious lot; they spend cash like water for the essentials of their sport and to get to 'n from the sport'n grounds, but suggest a license hike or a new levy on their sport and they howl like one who has just noted what it cost to fill up the tank of a big SUV. Case in point:

For a few years NOAA's Fisheries Service has been working on an Atlantic Coast fishing registry program that would require all recreational anglers to register before fishing - and the nay- sayers are already trying to shoot it down though in a 'round about way they asked for it. They were the ones who complained the loudest in recent years about findings in a coastal survey that involved rockfish and flounder among other species.

They were the ones who loudly insisted the methodology was wrong in surveys and they were paying a penalty via regulations tightening based on inaccurate findings. Oh, how they cried - and how jubilant they were when it was learned they were right. The findings based on a telephone book survey was flawed, but at the time getting an accurate data base was neither simple nor easy.

Now NOAA proposes an angler registry, no more plain old phone books, instead what could be called a "fishermen's phone book," only fishermen would be listed. Those who fish recreationally whether by hook 'n line or spear in federal waters must sign on beginning next year. In addition, so must those "who may catch anadromous species anywhere, including striped bass, salmon and shad that spawn in rivers and streams and spend their adult life in estuaries and the "ocean."

The proposed rule satisfies the National Academy of Science National Research Council recommendations to establish a national data base of saltwater fishermen while meeting the requirements under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. NOAA says the proposed rule is targeted to "improve the quality and accuracy of data on marine recreational fishing and catches." It would also help measure the economic impact of recreational fishing on national and local economies. A big plus.

Now we're lining up for accurate methodology to give fisheries managers and scientists a good comprehensive and much needed picture of our marine resources and angler catches to avoid the sins of the past, but there are gripes aplenty. Mostly unfounded, I might say. Fisheries managers are an adept lot, but only if they have substantial facts and statistics as the basis of their assessments and initiatives. And getting them costs money.

For the first two years, the registry would be free, then we can expect an annual fee of from $15 to $25. NOAA could exempt fishermen if they already have a state-issued saltwater fishing license and the state provides sufficiently complete info to put in the national registry. Those who gripe say we in Maryland already have a license with all the facts, but they're not looking at the overall coastal picture. To work, the same basic info must be available from all states - and the information from various coastal states can differ. Also, no saltwater licensing currently exists from New Jersey to Maine.

One irate fishermen called me to gripe; "Fishing is a God-given right, and everybody keeps adding costs - and that's not right. God put those fish there and everybody else is making money off them." A typical complaint, but I must add, unfortunately God is not paying the bill to get the absolutely necessary information needed to manage and survey stocks. Financial aspects are left to the users - the would-be catchers. We must all accept that the days of free rides are over.

Those under 16 would not be required to register, nor would those who fish only from headboats, charterboats or guided boats because they are surveyed separately - and the registry plan is intended for facts, not profit. Registrations would include name, address and phone number of fishermen and where they fish. Some can expect to be contacted for input. It's a good plan.

Readers can send their views until Aug. 11 to John Boreman, director, Office of Science & Technology, NMFS, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, 20910, Attention: Gordon Colvin. If you prefer, send your thoughts to www.regulations.gov

(c) 2008 Maryland Gazette. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.