High school students from Harford County try for stripers during
the spring catch-and-release season on the upper Bay.
This is no sock hop. It’s 7 a.m. on a Saturday in April. It’s cold. It’s wet. But the cadre of students from the C. M. Wright High School in Bel Air, Md., are all smiles as they haul their gear down to the launching ramp at Elk Neck State Park, ready to ride the tide out to the Susquehanna Flats for a day of catch-and-release rockfishing. This is their fishing club’s annual spring outing with the Northern Bay Chapter of the Maryland Saltwater Sportsfishermen’s Association, whose members help them into the waiting fleet of bass boats, center-console runabouts and open skiffs strung out along the landing.
“We take ‘em out fishing in the spring,” says Northern Bay president Denny Wolf. “Then we take ‘em crabbing in the fall. Nicest bunch of kids you’ll ever meet.” Sarge’s Bait and Tackle in Elkton donates the bait - bloodworms today, for white perch - in case the rockfish don’t take to the Sassy Shads or Bass Assassins tied to the end of the fishing rods.
The club is the brainchild of Kenny Simmers, an English teacher at C. M. Wright and an MSSA member, who thought it would be fun to give kids a chance to get out on the water; let them get up close and personal with a fish now and then. “When I was a kid my Uncle Hank got me hooked on fishing for life,” he says. Now Simmers is passing along the favor. From a core group of around 20 kids more than 30 years ago (and eventually including his son, Kenny Jr.), membership in the program has grown to 110 strong, with 90 of them paying MSSA dues as well.
“I like being outside,” says first-timer Jess Arms, jigging from the Ugly Ann, run by Phil Reynolds and Ernie Mauldin. “My parents have a boat, and I thought I’d take this opportunity to learn how to fish.” Next to her, three-year fishing club veteran Tim Baker laughs. “She’ll be the first one to catch a fish, too. You watch,” he says. “Always works out that way.”
There’s more than the old “teach a kid to fish” mantra going on here, although passing along angling tips is clearly part of the program. These kids are learning to play by the rules, learning what the old salts can tell them about fishing the Bay and gaining respect for the resource that defines their neighborhood. They might catch nothing but a cold on this particularly raw morning, but they’ll be back, says Wolf. They’ll be back.
For more information about the fishing club or the Northern Bay Chapter of the MSSA, contact Wolf at 410-885-2253 or the MSSA main office at 410-255-5535 or firstname.lastname@example.org.