Thursday, August 6, 2009

Hunting for a Holiday?

CHESAPEAKE BEACH, Maryland. August 4, 2009. Where do you go for adventure? snorkeling in Australia? cruising the Caribbean? trekking in the Himalayas? Nothing wrong with that -- except those places are far away. But how about checking out what's close-by?

Not romantic or exotic enough? Think again.

Slip on down, for example, to the Chesapeake Bay and step onto, say, skipper Randy Dean's charter fishing boat, the "Bay Hunter," and you enter a near-by world that never stops in providing multi-faceted fascination and fun. It's local if you live in the Washington, D.C. area, fifty minutes from Northwest Washington. Chesapeake Beach and the Chesapeake Bay are also local if you're visiting family and friends in the D.C., Baltimore, Wilmington, or Philadelphia areas and want to experience something singular.

Local Vacations?

What's so special about local? For starters in this instance, the Chesapeake Bay has a shoreline longer than any other estuary in North America, including San Francisco Bay. Its bio-diversity is specific and unique. There are hundreds of different species of oysters in the myriad feeder rivers and streams that characterize the Chesapeake Bay’s extensive meandering shoreline.

Knowing about the grandness of the Bay, only a few days ago I negotiated my way from the Fishing Creek Marina dock to the step-stool stairs of the swaying "Bay Hunter" charter boat. On-board you find a father and son team: Captain Randy Dean and his seventeen-year old son, Ryan, the boat's first mate. You immediately recognize that this is no national chain operation. It is a family business.

There is always weather on the Chesapeake. It was beautiful on this August 4th day, 92 degrees, but a heavy cooling southern wind prevailed with a few mildly threatening clouds hovering low to our west.

"Bay Hunter" Sails. Chesapeake Resort is Along Shore

The "Bay Hunter" departed the Marina fast by the Chesapeake Beach Resort and Spa complex of buildings, shops, and restaurants. Our mid-summer, dog-days mission was to fish for rockfish (AKA striped bass), bluefish, spot (for bait), and Spanish Mackerel.

First we fished for bait. What we were after, said the Captain, was to catch forty small spot, the smaller the better. That quota was met. We were off to the adventurous search for the prized rockfish. Captain Dean pursued these fish diligently, using both high and low technology to seek out the fish sanctuaries of the moment. High-tech was the sonar technology used to see the depths by means of computer screen -- low-tech, or what we also might call human and bio-tech, was the use of binoculars to extend "the amazing eyesight" of the sea birds, mainly gulls, as they hovered around rockfish congregations "breaking water" signaling their temporary presence.

Fish on Port Line

Being on a vessel like the "Bay Hunter" is not a passive outing. You are decidedly and vigorously, engaged. "Fish on port line," the captain commands. And you grab the rod, digging its butt into your groin, lift its tip, and begin reeling in the ducking, dodging and spinning fish as it breaks the waves in the wake behind to the boat's stern -- and then into Ryan's waiting net.

"The fish are on the move," says Randy Dean. So he starts up the boat's engine and we ride the waves in pursuit. In the meantime, we talk in the pilot house with, Ryan, Dean's seventeen-year-old son and the boat’s first-mate.

I ask him, "Do you have a girlfriend"

Ryan answers, "No, not right now."

"How long do you go between girlfriends?"

"As long as I can," he answers grinning. "You know, girls can be just like a school of fish -- they all look good, and you get one --- and then another one comes along, and she's better than the one you've got. Sometimes they are all over the place. Then they are like a school of fish that just swim away."

Such is the kind of personal exchange you may get vacationing locally.

Ryan (AKA “Rye”) also said, "My mom likes organic." What's more organic than "pulling," trolling for, fish or seaweed out of the waters? These fish are not raised or fed on a farm. They are wild and free-range fed along the waters of the Chesapeake. Much like the complementary hotel and spa along shore. The Chesapeake Beach Resort and Spa is hardly a part of a collective chain of national hotels. The resort was designed by an independent architect living his life on a boat moored in Baltimore Harbor. The guest rooms at the resort are decorated in unique colors of muted blues and green and gray -- just like the Bay itself.

Feeding of Fishes

Fishing is sacramental. Or, if you will, “sacrafishal.” Cleaning fish makes a city slicker like me a bit squeamish. There is even a Gospel dimension to it. The loaves and the fishes. There is something redemptive about fish sacrificing their lives for us so we can have a delicious meal.

End of journey. The catch.. We too give up our lives for our posterity, our loved ones.

Go over to the man who cleans the fish for you. He guts and fillets your catch. He is much like the grave-digger in Hamlet in his sunny acceptance of life and death. I ask, "What do you do in winter?"

Cutting through the flesh and bones of a rockfish, he gives me a jolly look and answers, "I put together several manual jobs just to keep things going. But this here is the life I love."

© 2009 Bethesda, Maryland. Russ Barnes. All rights reserved. For permissions both text and photos contact

To see a rockfish catch, visit


Cinnamon said...

What a great description: "sacrifishal"

Russ Barnes said...

Indeed. Whose mind came up with that one?