Virginia Gov. John N.Dalton, angling for governmental economics in treacherous waters, has hooked many salt water fishermen where it hurts - in their pride.

To Dalton, who took office with a promise to preserve the state's reputation for frugal government, the $3.92 multicolored laminated plaques that the state has been handing out to fishermen by the thousands were an extravagance.

Henceforth, his office announced, the state will give only plain paper certificates, a step that aides calculated would save $80,000 during Dalton's four-year term.

But the idea has been about as welcome to fishermen as the news of another Kepone pesticide spill in the James River. "Everyone is pretty heated up about it down here," said Claude Rogers, director of the state-run Virginia salt water fishing tournament in Virginia Beach.

To get one of the plaques, all a fisherman must do is land a fish over a certain weight in Virginia waters, and then request the award from the State Department of Conservation and Economic Development. Last year the department mailed out 4,340 of the "Virginia Citations" at a cost of $17,012.80, officials said.

Rogers and other supporters of the plaques argue that they have become prized possessions to fishermen, and that many people come to the state to fish in hopes of winning one. "Virginia Citation" has become a household word in angling circle since we started our tournament 20 years ago," Rogers said.

"Other states like Maryland and North Carolina have imitated our tournament, but we're the only one with plasticized plaques," he said. "None of the others has our prestige. You find these plaques in the offices of doctors and dentists everywhere."

When Dalton recently took his cabinet to Virginia Beach to hear the gripes of local residents about state government, what he heard mostly were complaints about his decision to do away with the plaques.

"Everybody I've talked to thinks what he's done is ridiculous," said Bill Dixon, captain of the Virginia Beach charter boat Rhonda."The citations have been good advertising for us. They help us with repeat bookings."

Dixon was hoping to take his case to the governor this past weekend when Dalton was scheduled to fish aboard the state yacht Chesapeake, which is berthed near Dixon's boat. Rough seas forced Dalton to postpone the trip, but Dixon said he's willing to wait. "If I get a chance, I'll burn his ears good," Dixon said.

But for the moment, at least, Dalton spokesmen say the governor has no plans to retreat. The elimination of the plaques is just one of many cost-saving steps the governor is taking said William A. Royall, Dalton's press secretary.