It was a rude awakening to Virginia laws for one D.C. fisherman last week.

He was on his first outing of the year, taking the family for a weekend of camping at Pohick Bay Regional Park and a little fishing up the Occoquan River.

No expert, he strolled down to the banks in the quaint town of Occoquan and asked what was biting. A friendly angler wrapping up his day offered what was left of a box of night crawers and told the visitor where to loss his hooks.

A half-hour and a couple of little perch later the quiet calm of a family day was broken by the law. An officer of the Virginia Commission on Game and Inland Fisheries had something to say. It started, "May I see your fishing licenses, please."

The family had no licenses. They didn't think they needed them because they were fishing tidal water. In Maryland and the District no state licenses are required to fish streams that are affected by tides.

But in Virginia the law is much stiffer. The state demands licenses for any fresh or brackish water in which freshwater fish live. The Occoquan below the dam is tidal water, but that matters not under Virginia law.

Out Washington friends were applying Maryland/D.C. reasoning to Virginia waters, and the end result was tickets and fines for all. The lesson they learned was this: fishing laws are not the same from state to state. When in doubt, ask.