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James Drake

When the yellow perch spawning run gets underway in a few short weeks, the fishing season traditionally begins for many Maryland anglers.

Now is the time to make sure you have a new 2013 fishing license and all your tackle is in order. This is also a fine opportunity to dream about the big ones that don’t get away during the season ahead.

Hooks are sharpened, and your line is fresh. You’ve greased and oiled reels and inspected the guides on all your poles, so you’re ready to catch some fish.

OK, let’s say you actually do take a really huge fish sometime during this season. In fact, it’s so big it possibly could become the Maryland record yellow perch, blue catfish, croaker or largemouth bass.

Are you prepared for what to do after you get that big bad boy in the net?

Over the years, I’ve heard story after horror story of record catches that were disqualified for one reason or another.

Just a few years ago, a fisherman caught a huge largemouth bass from the Potomac River up by the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge. He was even with a licensed guide and didn’t want to kill his prize.

The guide took him and his fish — kept alive in the boat’s livewell — to a nearby market and had the fish weighed. They then returned it to the river and released it to swim free and maybe be caught again another day.

That was a nice thing to do, but not the right policy if you have a potential state record and want it recognized.

The fishing guide who was running this show gave the angler bad advice; it turned out his fish really was big enough to qualify as the state record.

What he had forgotten was that to be certified as a state record catch, a fishery biologist from Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources must inspect it. Dead or alive, a DNR official must see it.

Once that happened, and everything else was in order, the fish could have been released.

All right, let’s say you hooked into a monster catfish. For starters, nobody else can touch that rod while you’re fighting the fish. It doesn’t matter how sore your arm gets, you’ve got to do it by yourself. Once you get it up to the boat, your buddy can help net it, but nobody can help you fight it.

If you catch a big bass using one of those new Alabama rigs, it will be disqualified because these increasingly popular lures with all the multiple hooks are illegal to use in Maryland waters.

Everything has to be on the up-and-up with a record catch. The season has to be open, you need a valid fishing license and you’ve got to catch it obeying all the normal fishing rules. That’s right, leave your dynamite sticks at home.

OK, let’s say you land a big one legally, what do you do next?

The very first order of business is you need to get it weighed on a certified scale. Some tackle stores have one and most grocery stores do, too. Any business, mailing or shipping or grocery that sells products by weight should have a certified scale. Certified means it’s been inspected on a regular basis by somebody authorized to insure the weigh readings are correct.

Your biggest problem with this might not be finding one, but rather convincing the Postmaster or grocery owner to let you drop a 45-pound smelly, dead carp on their nice, pristine scale.

You’ll also need the name of the person at the store or office who actually weighed or observed you weighing the fish. Later, they’re going to have to sign an official statement attesting to what they witnessed.

You should weigh your catch as soon as humanly possible after catching it because it’s probably going to be losing a little weight as the hours tick by.

All Maryland state record catches are based on weight. The experts recommend you keep it in ice water to minimize that weight loss.

Next, call Maryland’s DNR fishery division to set up a meeting time and place for one of their biologists to see and inspect the catch. The numbers are 443-569-1381 or 410-260-8325.

If you don’t have those numbers handy, just call information for Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources in Annapolis, and you’ll eventually get to the right department.

You’ll also need to take a decent photograph that clearly shows the fish. I’d recommend you take several from different angles

That’s about it. The DNR official who inspects your catch will let you know what paperwork you’ll need to get signed. You have a two-week window to do all this after catching your prize.

Maryland keeps state record catches in three divisions — Atlantic, Chesapeake and freshwater — and some of the categories have no entries because no one has yet gone through the proper steps to certify their catch. Those empty categories do have a minimum size requirement.

I hope you do get lucky in this upcoming fishing year and, most importantly, that we all stay safe to fish again another day. Good luck.

Sturgeon endangered

The Atlantic sturgeon that spawn in the Chesapeake Bay are now listed as endangered and in real jeopardy of extinction throughout its historic range.

The fish were known to spawn in the Potomac, Susquehanna and Rappahannock rivers and other area waters, but today there is but only one known spawning population, Virginia’s James River.

Some sturgeon are thought to also be spawning in the York River in Virginia, but so far that’s unproven, and there is no evidence at all of them spawning in any other Chesapeake area river.

According to NOAA Fisheries Service, prior to 1890, it was estimated that approximately 20,000 adult females inhabited the Chesapeake Bay. The current estimate of spawning sturgeon in the James River is less than 300 adults per year.

The Atlantic sturgeon have been known to live to be 60-years-old and weigh in excess of 700 pounds at around 15 feet long.

Overfishing, habitat loss and pollution are the three main reasons for the sturgeon’s decline.