VICTORY, SORT OF: The 40 to 50 protesters who staged a "fish-in" last Sunday at the state-owned bulkhead on Solomons Island, challenging Calvert County's two-year-old fishing-crabbing ban there, were surprised to find the no-fishing signs missing.

It seems county officials had come in by night and removed them to provide a hastily contrived "free fishing day," said protest organizer Ken Rossignol. Thus no one was ticketed, he said, but on Monday night the signs returned.

The response outraged Rossignol, who says the county is kicking shore fishermen and crabbers off the island to make room for free-spending yuppies, yet is apparently unwilling to face a test of the legality of its action.

He figures they can't keep moving signs forever, so he's scheduling another fish-in at 8 p.m. June 7, once again across the street from Fisherman's Inn on the island's main drag.

BATTERED? George Stevens of Alexandria's Belle Haven Marina argues that a recent characterization of his Potomac rental rowboats as "battered" in these pages was unfair. The year-old aluminum craft, he says, are in as good a shape as anything you're likely to find in a rental fleet.

Apologies hereby extended. Stevens's boats only looked battered, we expect, compared to the fancy, metal-flake bass boat we happened to be in at the time.

LEARNING CURVE: Virginia's statewide free fishing days next weekend allow novices to try out angling on lakes, ponds and rivers Saturday and Sunday without having to buy a freshwater license. To help with the learning process, the state also is organizing fishing clinics at six locations, including Alexandria's Lake Cook, where children ages 6-12 get free instruction and refreshments, 8 a.m.-noon.

Call 838-4343 for information.

BIG MONEY: The Dow Corp. on Wednesday announced a $3 million commitment to the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, the $1 billion joint U.S.-Canadian attempt to restore declining duck and goose populations by preserving 5.5 million acres of North American wetlands.

Dow turned over $1 million at a Capitol Hill news conference Wednesday and promised $2 million more over the next three years.

The gift is the biggest yet for the NAWMP, said Chip Collins of the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation. His organization helped land the Dow prize and has pledged to match it dollar for dollar with federally appropriated funds it oversees. Collins also announced a $25,000 seed grant for wetlands conservation from the Canadian beer company Moosehead.

STAR TO STEER BY: The tall ship Spirit of Massachusetts is at Alexandria's waterfront this weekend and is available for tours and daily river excursions today and Monday. Free tours are 10 a.m.-1 p.m.; river excursions are 1:30-4:30 and 5-8 p.m. at a cost of $25 for adults, $12.50 for children under 12.

Call 549-7078 for reservations.

FISH TALK: National Capital Chapter of Trout Unlimited presents a talk on fly fishing in Alaska by John and Suzanne Mingo at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Ramada Renaissance Hotel, 1143 New Hampshire Ave. NW. Public is welcome.

Potomac River Smallmouth Club hears Karen Firehock of the Izaak Walton League on smallmouth stream conservation measures at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the National Wildlife Federation Building, 8925 Leesburg Pike, Vienna. Public invited.

ROLLIN': The American Lung Association of Northern Virginia runs its annual, 100-mile Back Roads Bike Trek from Manassas to Fredericksburg next weekend. The trip includes an overnight stay Saturday at the Holidome in Fredericksburg. Proceeds benefit the association. Call (703) 591-4131 for details.

OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE: The Conservation Round Table of Washington hears Rep. Mike Synar (D-Okla.) at its regular monthly luncheon meeting June 6. Synar (he really is from Muskogee) has been an outspoken critic of some administration environmental policies and was a key player in the Clean Air debate.

Cost for the luncheon is $20; reservations required by June 4. Call 333-8495 for information.