Friday, July 31, 2009

So Many Fish in the Sea; Part 2 -- Something about Gambling & Fishing

You cast your fishing line out into the Chesapeake waters. On Captain Randy Dean’s new boat, Bay Hunter, fishing is a gamble if not an act of faith. Catching a fish is not so much fisherman’s luck as it is happenstance. Fishing is about the right conditions coming together in a random, synchronistic manner. When the catch happens, it is a happy occasion.

Happenstance -- and so it happens -- being happy are kindred life experiences.

Is gambling about making money or is it, like fishing, a happy entertainment that benefits the whole world -- and you and me? Throwing money away may benefit your soul, many souls. Although prudence around one’s treasure is recommended.

Chesapeake Beach, Maryland was built during the early twentieth-century upon gambling, fishing, and entertainment. I was at Chesapeake Beach Resort and Spa three days ago and played a rousing game of pinball in its entertainment room. The machine didn’t pay you back in money. Clunk-de-clunk you were paid back in more games and the fun of keeping the game, the play, alive. Other games at the resort pay cash: slot machines and bingo.

The McGill-based (Montreal) economist, Reuven Brenner, a friend of mine, points out that gambling helps the economy and the arts. Opera at Monte Carlo, and other theaters in Europe, was subsidized by gaming. Gaming, which is optional, brought down the price of a ticket to the opera, subsidizing it as well as paying the artists.

Fishing thrives on the confluence of happenstance: feeding opportunities, tides, wind, weather, and the fisherman’s intuition -- just like a random deal of cards. Fishing is an exercise in what modern physicists call the “uncertainty principle.” Below is a continuation of a story about what it is like being on a charter fishing boat with Chesapeake skipper, Randy Dean.

How Many Fish Does it Take to Earn a Living, Part 2

First Published in Bay Weekly

The Big Kahuna

Our captain puts me in mind of the word kahuna.

Kahuna is a name given in the Eastern Pacific to powerful priests, doctors, sorcerers and navigators. They’re known for their ability to make things work, bringing advantage all around.

Here, Dean’s proper title is master, and his mastery is certified by the U.S. Coast Guard.

In waters like those of the Chesapeake, a captain’s license allows the skipper to take out a commercial boat with six passengers aboard, called a six pack. A master’s license allows for carrying an unlimited number of passengers up to the limit of the boat. On larger vessels, the master takes responsibility for overall administration of the vessel, while the captain is entrusted mostly to navigation and other sea-going operations.

Aboard Reel Attitude, Dean is the absolute authority. But he tempers his command, when safety permits, with democratic advice and consent.

“Do you think we should chum for rockfish here some more or troll for bluefish from here to Poplar Island?” he asks his mate, who is also a licensed captain.

But when the expedition nears a “close place” — as Mark Twain styles the dangers lurking in all waters — Dean always remains the master of his vessel. Then he bellows “Fish on!” or “Door latch at bottom!” or “Move back!”

A charter captain is also a businessman.
“Running a charter fishing boat isn’t only about loving to fish and working hard at it,” explains Dean. “That doesn’t guarantee you have a going business. One of the things you have to look at are the business realities, the numbers to get a picture of how you’re doing, what you need to be doing. Another thing is keeping the boat and its engine in shape at a cost you can afford.”

With his mind for making numbers add up, Dean has fashioned a financial model for Chesapeake Bay charter fishing businesses to help skippers to scrutinize how variables affect their bottom line. He’s also treasurer of the Captains’ Association at the Rod ’n’ Reel Marina, which provides services to its 27 charter fishermen and supports good works, including the annual Rod ’n’ Reel Captains Tournament and donations of fish to charitable organizations.

Dean’s an adopted son of the Chesapeake, but he’s a lifelong fisherman.

He grew up in Chamco, West Virginia, he tells us as he reels in a line. Some cagey fish has just eaten the bait around our hook.

Back there in Chamco in the mid-1980s, he traded soda-bottle deposits for fishing tackle and bait at the town’s general store for daily fishing on nearby Meadow River. “I found a way to support my growing fishing addiction,” he says.

Chamco is where Dean learned about that important, and often cantankerous, component of a charter fishing boat: the internal combustion engine. He learned from a top-notch auto mechanic, his father.

“I was the only one in the family willing to hold the flashlight for him when he fixed a car engine at night,” Dean says. “After a while, I realized I was learning a heck of a lot about mechanics just by holding that light and watching how things got fixed.”

We are lucky and do not need to test his mechanical abilities on this trip.

Catch of the Day
At noon, after six hours of morning fishing on the Chesapeake, we return to the Rod ’n’ Reel Harbor with a catch of 16 fish. A small crowd on shore awaits our arrival. Our fish are heaved onto a deck dolly, wheeled to the fish-cleaning table manned by attendants wearing long aprons and wielding sharp scaling knives. In a flash, rockfish, bluefish, croaker and spot are filleted, bagged, packed on ice.

Now there are more tall tales to tell. Captain Randy Dean smiles checking out the crowd “Everybody,” he says, “wants to see the catch of the day.”

Go Fishing

The Chesapeake Country charter fishing season ordinarily runs from mid-April through early December. Be advised that the later the season, the bigger the fish. Among Maryland’s 600-plus licensed captains, about 80 fish out of Anne Arundel County and 90 out of Calvert County. The captains typically organize themselves into associations.

The Maryland Charter Boat Association

Calvert County Charter Fishing Associations

Anne Arundel County Charter Fishing Associations

© 2009 Russ Barnes. All rights reserved -- writing and photos.

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