Rain is scarce throughout the county and so, it seems, are the fish. The lack of rain throughout the summer, blooming algae and rising water temperatures are testing even the most dedicated anglers.
Jeff Cyran and Don Storr slid their fiberglass boat onto Piscataway Creek at Fort Washington Marina before 6 a.m. one recent morning. When they returned about nine hours later, after fishing the Piscataway, Little Hunting Creek, Broad Creek and around Wilson Bridge on the Potomac, they didn't have much to report: two largemouth bass, one of them keeper size. They threw back both.
The sun blazed as Cyran and Storr loaded their 17 1/2-foot boat onto a trailer in the marina parking lot. The tar-topped dock pilings bubbled in the midafternoon heat. Several gulls had grounded themselves amid the cabin cruisers and sailboats, and the only things moving were flags buffeted by a slight wind.
"I have no idea what the fish are doing," said Cyran, from Columbia. "You can't seem to find them in shallow water. . . . I'd have to say maybe it's something to do with the drought. Tell you one thing: The fishing has been poor the last few weeks."
Although Fort Washington's Don Wilson, a junior at Friendly High, recently caught a record 39-pound, 4-ounce blue catfish on nearby Swan Creek, the pockets of good fishing have become harder to find.
"All the fish are in the grass right now," said angler Ricky Crown of Fort Washington, who works for Fiberglass Fabricators, located next door to the marina. The "water is full of algae. You can look and see how deep it goes . . . it's taking their oxygen from them. A lot of fish are staying where the water is breaking on the shoreline--that's causing oxygen."
Undisturbed by the cleansing action of rain, swathes of green algae covered the Piscataway's surface near the docks. The hulls of many of the boats had a dark layer of dried algae running from stern to bow. The combination of organic growth and high water temperatures (Storr said it hovered between 78 and 83 degrees during their trip) have fish looking for relief.
With less oxygen available, fish must filter more water than usual through their gills. With the spike in temperature, cooler, deep-water holes become more attractive throughout tidal and freshwater fishing areas. David Powell, a regular along the shores of Allen Pond in Bowie, said the fishing has been "a lot slower." Although the panfish and sunfish seem as active as ever, bigger species are proving more elusive.
"During the heat of the day, everything is moving slow," said Powell, who hadn't caught anything over two pounds for some time. "Of course, you're moving slow, too."
One place the drought has not adversely affected is the Cedarville Hatchery in Brandywine. Part of the Department of Natural Resources' fisheries organization, the hatchery's 29 ponds are components of a large-scale corrective stocking and species restoration effort. But much of this year's work was completed by the time the rain stopped.
"The drought itself hasn't affected our operation--not here, anyhow," said Jerry Stringer, the freshwater hatchery manager. He said their busiest season runs from March 1 to mid-June. "Mother Nature was kind to us in the spring."
That hasn't been the case elsewhere lately. Jim Gilford, chairman of the governor-appointed Maryland Sportfishing Commission, said many streams throughout the state, especially spring-fed ones without reservoirs, are "taking a beating. . . . If we don't get some rain we're going to be hard-pressed. It's a bad time for fish."
When the keepers aren't running your way, it's time to make adjustments. Powell hasn't had much luck with the spinnerbait he's been using at Allen Pond and planned to try his fly rod the next time out. He noticed that the many bugs flitting on the surface attract attention when it gets cooler later in the day.
Cyran, on the other hand, isn't sure what the solution is. Earlier in the season, it wasn't unusual to pull in a dozen fish on a single trip. But as the summer got drier and drier, the numbers declined. He's not too eager to repeat a day spent on the water with the fish ducking for cover.
"We thought it would be a little better today, [but it's] the same," Cyran said. "We may call it quits for a little while."
Questions? Comments? Do you know of a special place in the outdoors? We'd like to hear about it. Get in touch with John Mullen by writing him at: The Outsider c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington D.C., 20071. Or e-mail him at email@example.com
CAPTION: Michael Donovan of Annapolis gives some tips on landing fish at Allen Pond in Bowie to sons Avery, 2, and Caelan, 5. This summer's drought has slowed freshwater fishing in the area.