The way striped bass are declining on the Chesapeake Bay, there might not be any left by 1980. But area striper fishermen could have a chance by then to chase their favorite prey much closer to home.
Paul Hancock, who runs the Washington-Suburban Sanitary Commission's Triadelphia and Duckett reservoirs, is heading to South Carolina in April, and when he comes back he'll be loaded up with striper larvae.
Hancock, with help from the Bassmaster Lunker League, will bring back 100,000 larvae. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is going to help him try to hatch them in state tanks at the reservoirs' Brighton Dam headquarters.
If they make it, the striper fry will be introduced into the impoundments early in May; and in two years' time, if all goes well, they should reach legal size.
It's all a long-shot arrangement. About 15 years ago Triadelphia/Duckett authorities put 150 stripers in the six to eight-inch class in the water and never saw them again.
But there are freshwater lakes in which stripers have flourished - Santee-Cooper in South Carolina, Smith Mountain Lake in the Virginia mountains and Kerr/Gaston on the Virginia-North Carolina border, to name three.
Even if the stripers take hold in the WSSC lakes, which are out Colesville Road just 25 minutes from downtown, they will never reproduce. Stripers, or rockfish as they are known locally, need fast-flowing streams to spawn in. They will be in Triadelphia/Duckett strictly on a put-and-take basis.
In any case, it's an inexpensive gamble.
The larvae are being donated by the South Carolina natural resources people. The Bassmaster Lunker League is donating the transportation costs and the Maryland DNR is charging nothing for the use of the tanks and its expertise in hatching.
The biggest obstacle to the survival of the little fish will be bigger fish. At an average size of an inch or less, the rockfish fry will be, in the words of Hancock, "food for everybody."
The most voracious predator they must face is great northern pike, which are enjoying a record year on the two lakes. Some 25 pike over seven pounds were caught in Triadelphia/Duckett this year, and pike eat everything and lots of it.
At their size, the striper fry will be food for crappie, bluegill, largemouth and smallmouth bass as well as the hungry pike.
"They'll be swimming food," said Hancock. "You just hope a few will make it."
As far as he knows this will mark the first time that striped bass have been stocked in any Maryland impoundment.
In other good news, Hancock said he will be stocking 2,000 largemouth bass in the six to eight-inch range in Triadelphia this spring. He'll put 2,000 more than size the following year in Duckett, which is locally known as Rocky Gorge.