THE TROUT are just around the bend. In Maryland, although their season actually runs year-round, the real action begins March 22, when the vast majority of the state's streams will have been restocked and reopened. And in Virginia, opening day is April 5 at noon.
That means scores of streams within a two- hour drive of Washington will be ready with freshwater trout. Most will range from 10 to 14 inches, with a few brood fish of several pounds thrown in as a bonus. These hatchery- raised trout are used to seeing people every day, but it won't take them long to become as wild as their native cousins.
Opening day usually attracts anglers by the thousands. Although they're fishing shoulder to shoulder, only a few will consistently hook up with the limit of feisty trout within a few hours. Why are they so successful? The old saying that 10 percent of the fishermen catch 90 percent of the fish really holds true in trout fishing. The reason is skill.
If you're lucky enough to find a stream that has been stocked very recently, you'll likely catch trout with nearly any bait or lure you choose. However, if the fish have been in those waters for more than two weeks, there's a good chance they've grown used to foraging for natural foods. Then, you'll need all the expertise you can muster.
Light or ultra-light fishing gear rigged with just enough weight to get your bait to the bottom is what's needed. This allows your worm or salmon egg to drift naturally to the waiting fish.
If you insist on wading the stream, be sure to do so as quietly as possible. Any noise, splashing boots or tumbling stones, will instantly frighten the fish to the point where they will not feed for several hours. Cast your offering upstream and allow it to drift toward the oposite shore. This is considered the best way to consistently catch a wary trout.
Assuming you have skill and/or luck, the creel limit in Maryland is five per day, with no minimum size; on most streams in Virginia, the creel limit is six per day with a minimum size of 7 inches.
There are some exceptions, so be sure to carefully check the rules in your state fishing booklet and local regulations.
Several streams in both Maryland and Virginia have restrictions on the type of tackle, lures and bait that may be used. Some streams are limited to artificial lures with only single hooks, while other waters may restrict you to artificial flies and fly rods. Usually, these bodies of water are also restricted to catch- and-return fishing or small creel limits with larger than normal-sized fish. In most instances, the stream is well posted with current regulations, but it's still a good idea to check that rule book carefully.
Remember to get your license, by the way. In Maryland, a freshwater fishing license for residents 16 to 64 years of age is $8, plus an additional $3.50 for a trout stamp. If you are 65 or over, there is no freshwater license fee but you must carry a license; the trout stamp is $1. Youngsters 15 and under do not need a license. For non-residents, a fishing license is $15, plus $3.50 for the trout stamp. For more information, call 301/269-3216.
In Virginia, a freshwater license for residents 16 to 64 is $7.50, plus an additional $6.50 for a trout stamp. No license is required for residents over 64 or under 16. For non- residents, a license is $15, plus $20 for the trout stamp. For more information, call 804/257-1000.
If you're wondering exactly where to go trout fishing in either Maryland or Virginia, below is a partial list of stocked, designated trout waters within two hours' drive of town. Maryland expects to stock its waters with more than 200,000 rainbows. Virginia's stocking is more ambitious, with more fish and a greater variety, including brook and brown trout besides rainbows. All the following wet spots are expected to get 1,000 to 6,000 trout each. MARYLAND
ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY -- Lake Waterford, Severn Run.
BALTIMORE COUNTY -- Little Falls, Bee Tree Run, Gunpowder River, Little Gunpowder River, Gynbrook Pond, Avalon Pond.
FREDERICK COUNTY -- Fishing Creek, Little Hunting Creek, Owens Creek, Friends Creek, Middle Creek, Frank Bentz Pond, Hunting Creek Reservoir, Urbana Lake, Rainbow Lake, Culler Lake.
GARRETT COUNTY -- Bear Creek, Savage River, Savage Reservoir, New Germany Lake, Youghiogheny River, Mill Run, Muddy Creek, Buffalo Run, Glade Run, Piney Reservoir, Bradford Lake, Herrington Lake.
HOWARD & MONTGOMERY COUNTIES -- Little Seneca Creek, Lake Needwood, Northwest Branch, Patuxent River Special Area, Izaak Walton Pond, Pine Lake, Wilde Lake, Lake Elkhorn.
PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY -- Melwood Pond, Northwest Branch, Tucker Pond, Cosca Lake. VIRGINIA
FREDERICK COUNTY -- Back Creek, Hogue Creek, Cedar Creek, Paddy Run, Clearbrook Lake, Winchester Park Lake.
PAGE COUNTY -- Cub Run, Upper Passage Creek.
ROCKINGHAM COUNTY -- Shenandoah River (N. Fork), Dry River, Briery Branch, Silver lake, German River, Boone's Run, Shoemaker River, Skidmore Fork, Briery Lake. SHENANDOAH COUNTY -- Passage Creek, Big Stoney Creek, Cedar Creek, Cedar Creek, Mill Creek, Paddy Run, Peters Mill Run, Tomahawk Pond, Little Passage Creek, Cedar Creek.