- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 23, 2006

RIDGE, Md.

When charter fishing captain Steve Davis fired up the Miss Valerie II’s engine and slowly idled out of Smith Creek, which is a feeder to the lower Potomac River, he silenced the ever cackling ship’s radio and said, “A few days ago, I entered the river, set out some lines and started trolling right then and there. We had keeper fish on by the time I crossed over toward the Virginia side.”

The “keepers” he referred to are the big striped bass, spawning fish, the brood females and more than a few hefty males from the Atlantic that during the spring invade the Chesapeake Bay to seek food and suitable reproduction sites.

It is spring trophy season for the Maryland stripers, a time of year when enterprising fishermen are allowed to keep one rockfish of 33 inches or more a day. There’s to be no culling, no waiting until a bigger specimen comes along. When you hook a 33-inch-and-over “rock” and you put it into the cooler, that’s it. You can sit and enjoy the sight of brown pelicans — yes, pelicans — skimming the surface of the water, or do a little catch-and-release fishing, but once your big fish is on ice, you’re pretty much done.

Don’t fret; it’s a glorious feeling.

Davis, 37, is a delight to be with. He’s been a licensed fishing captain for nearly 20 years, and his 42-foot, custom-built Miss Valerie II runs like a dream, a 450 Cummings Diesel pushing her along while this relative youngster (as charter captains go) sits at the helm. Davis knows every bottom knoll, bait-holding hump and likely fish-filled channel from St. Mary’s County across the bay to the Eastern Shore.

He skirted the shallow waters at Point Lookout, entered the Chesapeake Bay and headed east toward Buoy 72 and the 40 to 45 feet of water he was looking for. By the time he slowed the boat, his teenage son, Ethan, who enjoyed a school-free day, already was busy preparing 14 trolling rods. Count ‘em, 14.

There were rods with thin but powerful braided and fused lines attached to umbrella rigs that held white or chartreuse Sassy Shad lure bodies. Others were tied to huge parachute bucktails and outlandishly sized plastic shad bodies threaded onto the hooks. To top it off, Ethan and his dad released wooden planer boards on long cords that acted as outriggers of a kind. Each of the planers’ lines soon had quick-release snaps attached, and within minutes three lines on the starboard and three lines on the port side were pulled far out, away from the noise and shadow of the charter craft.

No sooner was it done than one of the outrigger lines went down, the rod dancing sharply in its holder, and my neighbor, Peter Malnati, was doing battle with a rockfish that easily made the 33-inch minimum. The beautifully marked striper was netted by Davis and deposited on ice. Technically, Malnati was done.

I was next with a 34-inch female. She was iced. Ethan Davis soon hoisted one that also met the mark.

But what was noteworthy was the fact that while Malnati and I helped reel up the lines to put them away, three more big fish struck. They were promptly released. It was totally amazing. We had been slowly trolling in 45 feet of water, but Davis pointed out that every one of the fish struck lures that enticingly wiggled along no more than 10 feet from the surface.

It was a wonderful, albeit short, outing primarily because there were only three of us fishing. The captain was not allowed to keep a fish for himself.

If you’re interested in a wonderful outing in some of the richest waters in the Chesapeake, fishing with a skilled, friendly professional, call captain Davis at 301/872-5499.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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