Dave Woronecki ran a survey last spring of who fished Maryland trout waters, and the Nation's Capital flunked.
Woronecki heads the coldwater fish (trout) program for Maryland, and he and his assistants interviewed some 1,400 trout anglers around the state, mostly on season-opening days.
Of those 1,400 he found not one from the District of Columbia, which left him surprised and chagrined, because one of the things Maryland has been trying to do in recent years is expand trout-fishing around its big urban areas.
Recently Woronecki stopped in at Anglers Art, Barry Serviente's trout-fishing shop in Georgetown, for advice on how to lure Washington fishermen back to Maryland streams.
He's entertaining the notion of adding one or more new close-in streams to those stocked with hatchery-reared fish each spring. To that end, Woronecki's seeking recommendations from Washingtonians about what streams would be appropriate. For the last two years the Northwest Branch has been stocked inside the Beltway. Some upper stretches of Rock Creek are now under consideration, and Woronecki is looking for more ideas.
Unfortunately, Serviente and others in D.C.'s serious trout-fishing fraternity are less than thrilled by the prospect of more stocked streams. They think stocked trout are blights and suspect that the reason Woronecki can't find anybody from Washington on opening day is that Washingtonians get enough of traffic jams during the week, and want peace and quiet when they go fishing.
"Opening day is where you get the meat fishermen, the cheese-ballers," said Larry Miller, former chairman of the Mid-Atlantic Council of Trout Unlimited. "Serious fishermen just won't go out."
And, added Bill Horn, head of TU's National Capital Chapter, avid trout-anglers aren't likely to spend much time in Maryland after the season opener, anyway.
Woronecki "called us about this a couple of weeks ago," Horn said, "and we brought it up at a recent executive-board meeting. Among the more serious guys, the feeling was that when you pay $15 or so for your Maryland license and stamp, the fee is pretty steep for what you get. There are only a handful of quality trout streams within a reasonable drive.
"For $12.50 the same guy can buy a Pennsylvania license, drive an extra half-hour and be fishing in some of the most challenging, difficult and rewarding trout waters in the East."
The difference, according to Miller, Horn and Serviente, is that Pennsylvania has better waters to start with and manages them with an eye toward reproducing populations of trout naturally. Maryland, on the other hand, concentrates harder than they would like to see on providing a brief springtime orgy of bait-fishing for stocked trout in streams like the Northwest Branch, Little Seneca Creek and the Patuxent River.
"We've looked long and hard to find a decent-size stream in the local area that could support a reproducing trout population," said Horn. "Other than the Paint Branch, which is too small to use for recreation, we found nothing that had the kind of water quality, and long-term availability that would make it work."
He and the others feel that the state should accept the limitations of the waters hereabouts, stock fish in moderation in the close-in streams, and then concentrate more of its funds on protection and restoration of natural trout waters like Morgan Run, Jones Falls near Baltimore and Hunting Creek in Thurmont.
A recent survey indicated that there are more than a hundred streams in Maryland that can or do support natural trout populations, Horn said. "We in TU feel that if you want to build a trout-fishing public, take some of the money you'd spend on finding another Northwest Branch and use it instead to build up those hundred streams.
"We have nothing against stocked waters. It's how a lot of us got started," he added. "But we know from everything we're told by federal and state fish-managers that put-and-take fishing never pays for itself."
He wouldn't end the stocking program: "We feel it's important because it supplements that native fish. but we feel in most cases it's out of balance."