Fishermen are eternal optimists, not looking back on the ones that got away but instead looking ahead to the ones presumably will not.

But this time of the year, even if the fish are there, it may be impossible to reach them.

Word from the Rod "n" Reed in Chesapeake Beach, Md., is that rockfish are moving south into the Middle Bay. A couple of ventures south of the Bay Bridge in the last couple of weeks have yielded fine catches; one party reportedly returned with 70 stripers in the two-to-five pound class.

But the way the wind has been blowing, the fish may be gone before anyone can get out again. And that's not funny.

The skippers were catching rock in 50 to 55 feet of water over hard bottom, trolling buckfalls very slowly.

There may be fish off Ocean City, too. The annual codfish run is due about now, but again, as of late last week no one had been able to get out into the breezy ocean to find them, if they're there.

Charter headboats leave from various Ocean City piers on weekends until the weather gets too bad. Best bet for finding out for finding out if the fish are in is a call to the Chamber of Commerce, 301-289-8221.

We will try to met outand report on both rock in the Bay and cod in the ocean in the next couple of weeks.

The Virginia Inland Fisheries Commission reports that fishing in the South Fork of the Shenandoah is off dramatically - 72 per cent below 1975 levels.

Mercury contamination was discovered in the river downstream from Waynesboro last spring and on June 6 the state closed all fishing for consumption. Sport fishing throwing them back is still permitted, but apparently the allure is gone for many.

The state estimates that the decline in fishermen will cost communities near the river over a quarter million dollars a year in business.

Vepco has started a fish-tagging program at Lake Anna near Fredericksburg, one of the best bass lakes within close range of Washington.

The tags are attached to the dorsal fin of fish, and data from their retrieval will be used to study growth and movement of fish in the lake. If you catch a tagged fish, note the color and number of the tag, time and location of catch and length of the fish. Call in the information to Vepco at 804-771-3181; 703-894-5151 (x323) or, on Sundays, 703-894-4304. Call collect.

The Audubon Society will conduct its 35th annual Christmas bird count for Washington and some close-in suburbs on Saturday.

Compiler Claudia Wilds is assembling parties of birdwatchers to room the District, a small chunk of Maryland near Oxon Hill and sections of Arlington. Alexandria and Halls Church. Anyone interested in participating should call her at 333-5759.

The data is used to put together an overview of bird trends and populations. Participants pay $1.50 apiece to take part and should figure on spending most of the daylight hours on the trail.

Warm clothes, good boots and a pair of field glasses are prerequisites, along with a working knowledge of birds, though some movies can join practiced groups of watchers.

The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club will have its holiday party Dec. 27 from 3 p.m. at club headquarters, 1718 N St. SW.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission reports that bucks taken during the deer season in the Keystone State are heavier and older than in years past. Antiers have been running on the large side, as well.

Officials believe the trend developed because of last year's miserable hunting weather, which resulted in a poorer harvest than usual and more older bucks surviving through until this year.

And talking about deer, West Virginia reports that hunters brought down a record 32,351 bucks in the season just ended.

The old record was 31,490, set in 1976.