The Catch of the Day
Bill put his Boston Whaler in at Sandy Point at around nine am, Bill and Patty, Betsy and me aboard. We trolled, zigzagging around the Chesapeake Bridge pilings toward Kent Island on the eastern shore. Best catch scenario: Striped bass, Rockfish. It was possible to catch some really big ones. This was before depletion of stock and subsequent regulation of size and catch limits. Acceptable scenario: Bluefish, which also could run pretty large, maybe even 16 lbs. or better. The weather was perfect: sunny, clear and warm, coming on hot. It was suntan lotion time for the women, but Bill and I were fishermen, machos. There was a slight breeze, just enough to keeps the bugs off, barely enough to ruffle the water,
We kept up our back and forth cross-bay trolling parallel to the bridge until around noon with no luck. Then we bottom fished around pilings with squid and bloodworms for bait, getting many bites, but catching no fish larger than white perch and spot which were also good bait. Trolling required no bait. You attached an inline sinker to the line and tied a heavier leader to that, at the end of which was a shiny metal treble hooked “spoon” or a “plug”, a lure resembling a fish or squid or eel which had a spinning or undulating action when towed through the water. These were supposed to be irresistible to fish, according to the PR. The fish were uniformly resisting our persistent efforts.
We had eaten some junk food snacks on the way down from Baltimore, but no real breakfast, so come hunger we broke out the sandwiches and pickles and potato chips. And beer, which the women sipped while Bill gulped thirstily. The women generally stuck to Cokes or whatever soda was on hand, or even water which I really don’t much care for. I just don’t like water. We kept underway while we ate and drank.
Bill and I were at that time best friends until my behavior later brought the friendship to a close. We were both beercoholics, although Bill sometimes had boilermaker evenings, shots with his beers. Bill had begun his drinking early, but it didn’t seem to affect his judgment or actions on the water or, for that matter, anywhere else, even driving. It was usually hard to tell he had been drinking until he was drunk, which he usually was at the end of each evening. And it was hard to tell at which point he had turned drunk.
On land I was no good at drinking in the afternoon, let alone morning; I just got drowsy with a growing imperative to sleep it off. Drinking before five o’clock or dark, depending on the time of year, was the kiss of sleep for me leaving me not much good for anything useful. But once I started drinking I didn’t stop until bedtime. On the water was another matter: here it seemed to add to the invigoration, rather than reduce it. It seemed to heighten the experience. However, I had my first beer with the food; early enough for me.
Now we turned south trolling our way offshore of Kent Island, soon passing the Matapeake fishing pier. There were a lot of fishermen trying their luck there. We were in close enough to see that, although a few were reeling in small fish, there wasn’t any real action going on. Nor out here either; we were getting no strikes. On the other side of the island further down was Romancoke, at that time not much more than a parking spot where you could put in a small boat or just go wading for crabs and clams in the clear, grassy waters. There were a few houses on the shore. It would have been a good time to buy property and build there, if one had but known. The place has since become Oz, as has any and all waterfront, or anyplace else within walking distance of the water, any water.
On the open bay were ships churning their way ponderously to and from Baltimore under the guidance of bay pilots. Sailboats were plentiful, but not nearly as many as would be seen when the office-working sailors returned home to their martini and change of clothes before setting out on the water. Here and there could be seen charter boats, also slowly trolling. There were many private boats of many sizes and speeds, some just out for the ride; these generally were the fastest, some of them towing water skiers. The smaller fishing boats were diversity itself, from twelve feet long to thirty or more foot cabin cruisers. There were even a few yachts, of no practical use from our point of view.
We continued south, reaching the end of the island without a strike. We had seen no schools of fish. Off this place, Bloody Point, is a curious bottom. It’s the deepest part of the bay, I believe 174 feet. When I first came to town after college there was at least one slot machine in every bar and in many restaurants. I was working for a tree company; some of the other climbers were addicts, spending their lunch money, even all their paychecks on these things. One guy, Shorty, a drunk like all the rest of us would empty his wallet in the bar on his way toward home after work every Friday night. It got so his wife had the boss hold his pay and put it in her hand directly. Then the waffling State of Maryland voted to outlaw the “one-armed bandits”, and confiscated them all. Then, what to do with them? Put them in storage against the time when the state would legalize them once again, to the extent of subsidizing the construction and patronage of casinos to compete for the business of adjacent states. No, of course not. Instead, it shipped them out over the depths here and dropped them overboard.
Deciding to vary our tactics, Bill swung around the point toward so-called Crab Alley. Here we bottom fished while drifting. It is relatively shallow here and we were at ebb tide. The breeze had died and we were at the mercy of flying bugs from all shores; some just stuck their hypodermic in like mosquitoes, some took just dainty bites, the no-see-ems just drove you crazy without biting at all, but the worst were the horse and deer flies which took big, chomping bites out of your skin. Our wives were prepared for this invasion as well as could be, and whipped out the bug spray. It wasn’t environmentally friendly and probably killed ova and sperms, but it kept most of the bugs away. We were prepared for the crabs we pulled up on our fishing lines, having brought along a dip net and a basket with a lid. Catch crabs we did, lots of them, but they were stealing our best bait so we switched to live spot on the larger rods for fish. Bill and I were fishing five or six rods, the smaller baited with bloodworms for spot, excellent bait, especially when fished live.
Patty and Betsy idly fished a rod from time to time, but they were here for the sun, to be on the water. They were not fishing fanatics as were Bill and I. We also caught and kept white perch which were delicious, but tedious to clean and cook, because so small and full of bones. They are also less attractive as bait. Here we randomly caught a few small bluefish; they were not schooling. We cut up some small fish and settled for crabbing for an hour or two; we did well. At least we could have a crab feast when we got home.
As the tide changed to incoming, Bill swung the boat back around the island onto the bay and we began trolling again, northward toward the bridge. Reaching Matapeake, he pulled in within hailing distance of the pier and we compared notes with some of the fishermen. They weren’t doing very good either: lots of crabs, spot and white perch, but only a few small blues. One guy had landed a flounder. Not an exciting day, fishing wise, but better than being back in Baltimore, ugh, working. I caught maybe a five pound blue just short of the bridge, and then Bill pulled one in. And that was it. We circled a piling and headed south again, this time fishing over deeper water. Here and there in the distance we could see an angler reeling something into one of the boats, but it never looked like much of a struggle was going on. We reached Bloody Point without another hit. We were well into the afternoon and the light was changing from soft to harsher, a little harder; there were no shadows to lengthen. We had eaten all our food and there wasn’t much beer left. We turned and headed north once more, now trolling a little faster.
We didn’t have much money. There was enough gas in the outboard tank to get us to the car and enough in the car to get us home, so that was not a problem. Hunger was. There is a marina/restaurant/bar tucked into the southeast intersection of the shore and the bridge that has changed ownership and name many times over the years; let’s call it the Mariner. In hopes that we could buy a meal within our budget Bill pulled into their cove and tied up at the dock. It’s always refreshing to stand up and stretch your legs after sitting down all day. We went in and took a table. It’s always darkest inside when you first come in from glaring light. Although it was a spacious restaurant, there were other diners at only a couple of tables. There were a few more people hanging out at the bar.
On the way in we had been jokingly guessing what the “catch of the day” might be. It is often the specialty of the house, whatever that might be or either the most expensive thing they have like Maine lobster or Tuna, or it might just as well be the cheapest thing they offer like a fried seafood platter in which you cannot distinguish the fish from the scallops or crab cake. We were hoping for the latter. Little did we know.
The waitress took her time coming over with menus and table service. It was a sleepy afternoon all around. Bill and I ordered beers as we opened the menus. Betsy and Patty got iced tea.
Penciled in under Specials was the “Catch of the Day”. Today, it was Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks.
®Copyright 2014 Jack Scott. All rights reserved.