Friday, July 24, 2009

So Many Fish in the Sea

It’s summer. And if you live around water, you don’t have to travel the thousands of miles that the travel magazines say you need to go to find glamorous and fun places. And you don’t need to spend a lot of money to have a good time.

The travel industry is driven by travel agent commissions and corporate interests. That’s okay. But these interests want to make sure you see only their travel opportunities on your radar screen.

All sorts of treasures await you locally for your pleasure and adventure if you are willing to look around your local neighborhood.

Case in point. Chesapeake Beach, a funky, sometimes fish-smelling, salt-water, relaxing place, is only fifty miles by auto from where I live in Bethesda, Maryland near Washington, DC.

There are similar gems available locally all over the world. The point here is that anyone can find travel properties near home as good or better than anywhere else on the planet at a reasonable prices in personal time and treasure.

In this exemplary case, Chesapeake Beach is located right on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. It was developed by railroad magnate and travel industry promoter -- General William Jackson Palmer. He was also the developer of the Broadmoor Resort in Colorado Springs, CO at the foot of Pike’s Peak You will see the connection between trains and travel. Add other attractions to the sun, water, and crabcakes recipe. and you get: low-stakes gambling, live music on the dock's gazebo, and horse and car racing, organic farms and historic places nearby. Then you will see why many Washingtonians have traveled to Chesapeake Beach for more than a century.

Palmer made it easy to get there by building a train track from Washington to the Beach.

Recently, Gerald Donovan, former mayor of Chesapeake Beach, built Chesapeake Beach Resort and Spa as a complement to his restaurants and fishing marina. The resort has commanding views of the Chesapeake Bay, rooms with balconies, sand-in your-shoes informality, a full-service class spa, and reasonable prices.

Many couples get married there -- right on the dock

Donovan said to me, “The women tend to go the spa and the men go out with charter boats to fish for Rockfish. Although that’s a stereotype with exceptions.”

Donovan recommended that I “go to sea” with charter boat operator, Randy Dean. My adventure on board his boat is a “to be continued” in further posts. You will see the beginning of the adventure story below.


“How Many Fish does it take to earn a living?”

(First published in Bay Weekly)

It’s before six and we amateur fishermen are groggy, having just rolled out of bed. The air is cool. The warm blush of sunrise light reflects off the Bay.

There’s a drowsy bustle along the dock at Rod ’n’ Reel Marina at the mouth of Fishing Creek on Chesapeake Bay. The fishing boats are lined up in their berths just behind the Rod ’n’ Reel and Smokey Joe’s restaurants and adjacent to the new Chesapeake Beach Resort and Spa. Skippers and their mates load their vessels with ice chests and buckets of chum. They duck in and out of the tackle shop, along the dock and above the fish-cleaning table, for last-minute supplies.

Out beyond the several dozen charter fishing boats moored in this 120-slip marina, the channel markers flash red and green, indicating the route out of the harbor and into the Bay. Beyond the markers, gulls dive, early birds already fish. Small Chesapeake surf laps the shore and dock pilings.

Our early morning crew of seven fishermen, including two women, climbs aboard the 42-foot motor vessel Reel Attitude. In the forward cabin, the captain makes a radio check of the latest weather report while his mate for this fishing expedition is busy organizing the tackle.

The most groggy among us awaken when Captain Randy Dean, 43, delivers his safety briefing, reminding us that riding Chesapeake waters is no trivial adventure.

Dean backs Reel Attitude out of her berth, and we slip smoothly by landmarks as the she idles toward the channel markers. Silently the passengers acknowledge in glances to each other that there is something about going out to sea that puts a thrill in your gut.

Just past the markers, Dean opens the throttle and heads for our first fishing location, off Tilghman Island close to Knapps Narrows, which runs through the island and connects the Choptank River with the Bay. “Fish,” Dean says, “usually like this spot.”

As novice fishermen aboard Dean’s boat, we are coddled. Approaching the fishing field, the mate assigns us poles. He describes how to let our line out until its weight hits the bottom of the Bay, about 35 feet down. To lure fish to us, the mate tosses overboard — with a hint of macho flourish — chum, bits and pieces of ground clams and feeder fish. This apparently delicious repast draws large communities of unsuspecting fish to the banquet beneath our boat. This is a seasonal ruse many fishermen apply.

Free-drifting near Tilghman with chum now overboard, we let out our lines, kindly baited by the mate for the sake of the squeamish. Five minutes later, Dean shouts, “Fish on!” Marie-Louise’s pole dips with a tug from the deep. Suddenly, the butt of the rod digs into her belly. Her rod is bent in a semi-circle by the fighting fish. Minutes later, the mate helps her bring the fish over the railing. As the fish comes aboard, it dances wildly on the line and its tail smacks Marie-Louise along the neck.

Oooh,” she shrieks, ducking sideways from the beast, not wanting to make its acquantance quite yet. The 21-inch rockfish flops onto the deck. The first catch of the day is a nice one.

At the helm, Dean explains how fish think. “The fish like the same places we like,” he says. “If the weather’s good, the fish like it right out in the middle. If the weather’s a bit rough, they like to go alongside an island like Tilghman or Poplar where the water’s smoother.”

Pointing through a cabin window, he asks, “See those birds over there? That means there’s fish around.”

Technology supports the fisherman’s wisdom in his search to satisfy charter parties. Looking at the fathometer above his wheel showing the Bay floor and the fish lying beneath the boat, he says, “These fish are fed. So they’re all stickin’ to the bottom. When they come up to about here, close to the surface, they’re ready to feed.”

To be continued

© 2009 Russ Barnes. All rights reserved.

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