- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 7, 2001

RIDGE, Md. — Does anybody remember the days of the Maryland rockfish moratorium, when the catching of striped bass by sport anglers and commercial netters was prohibited for five years?
The years from 1985 to 1990 were sad ones, indeed, but in the end the protective period proved that if you leave a deeply troubled fish species to its own devices, without pursuit by human predators, the species will rebound in grand fashion.
The Chesapeake Bay's stripers did just that, and the joy was great when we finally were allowed to hook a rockfish, even greater when we could keep one or two.
Now fast forward to 2001.
A group of anglers stands on the deck of the charter boat Miss Valerie II, superbly captained by Steve Davis, the son of one of the best charter fishing operators anywhere, Eddie Davis. The sturdy craft sits anchored in the Chesapeake somewhere near Buoy 72, east of the Point Lookout lighthouse. The younger Davis, a St. Mary's County native who has climbed aboard charter fishing boats from the day he learned how to walk, is busy grinding dozens of menhaden baitfish into an odoriferous gruel that is ladled into the blue-green waters of the Chesapeake. The aroma of the ground, oily baitfish is traveling far and wide, attracting hungry schools of stripers and more than one toothsome bluefish.
Rick Murvin and Dr. Peter Malnati stand at the stern section of the boat, rods and reels in hand, lines and hooks baited with fingersized pieces of menhaden fillet floating in the midst of the chum slick that Davis is intentionally creating to bring the fish ever closer to his boat.
Suddenly, Murvin's rod receives a violent strike, he lifts the pole upward and sticks the hook to an as yet unseen fish. Malnati, who is known simply as "Doc" to all hands aboard, follows with a hit of his own and he, too, sets the hook . "I hope it's not a rockfish," says Doc, tongue in cheek. "I'd rather have a blue."
Imagine that. After all these years of agonizing and worrying about the health of the rockfish population, immensely enjoying even the sight of even one now and then, we now have become so used to being up to our elbows in stripers that we'd rather hook a bluefish. Doc, of course, was kidding with his remark, but there might have been enough truth in it to make you sit back and contemplate the good fortune that has befallen us.
The rockfish are everywhere, tons of them, mostly small ones right now, but as the weather cools, some of the large ocean stripers will come into the Chesapeake and bluenose anglers will have the time of their lives with them. As concerns an absence of trophy stripers at this particular time, more than one recreational angler blames commercial netters and an abundance of commercial hook-and-liners who, the sport fishermen say, are making sure the resident stripers in the Bay don't get a chance to grow very large.
Meanwhile, captain Davis stays busy grinding chum, cutting bait pieces for his charges, showing how to retrieve a hook from the mouth of a rockfish here, a bluefish there, even an errant seagull that became snagged when she dived into the water to fetch a piece of fish. Unfortunately, it had a hook attached to it, and now the bird, beak clattering angrily, was retrieved in a most undignified way. But the young charter skipper handled the bird gently, removed the hook without doing any damage, then let the bird fly off, a little ruffled but none the worse for the experience.
"It happens now and then," said Davis, "but we make sure the birds aren't hurt. I won't allow anybody to be mean to these gulls. They're only dolng what comes naturally."
"Doc" Malnati, Murvin and a fellow who writes for a newspaper continued watching their lines, and rarely did two or three minutes pass before one, two or all three of them were into fish. It was absolutely wonderful. Each of the captain's charges was allowed to keep two rockfish of at least 18 inches in length and they did just that; that and keep a half dozen bluefish that weighed maybe two or three pounds apiece.
Have you ever dined on a fresh fillet cut from young bluefish? Batter it any way you like (we prefer a Louisiana Cajun batter available in every grocery store), pan fry it in hot oil, or oven-bake it. It's so good, rockfish suddenly take a back seat as far as some seafood epicures are concerned.
Davis says his type of productive fishing will continue unabated until way into November. "But ever since that terrible incident with those terrorists, we haven't booked as many trips as we normally do this time of year," he says. "It just doesn't make sense. You'd think a great fishing trip would take your mind off awful things like that."
The young charter fishing captain makes a great point. Only once was the subject broached while we were with him. We were too busy hooking fish. For bookings, Steve Davis or his father, Eddie, can be reached at 301/872-5871.


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