- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 18, 2002

BREEZY POINT, Md. — It doesn't feel like dawn at Breezy Point Marina.

The sun is already steaming down through a hazy, blue-gray sky on what will be a "code red" day in Washington, an hour northwest of this Calvert County community on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. Trucks roll in, gravel crackling under their tires; their drivers stop, don baseball caps and unload fishing gear. Caramel-colored water laps at the hulls of hundreds of boats, bearing names like "Weenie Beenie" and "Afternoon Delight," docked parallel and rocking gently back and forth in unison like a nautical chorus line.
This is charter country on the flat-bottomed bay, where the fish have few places to hide and finding them is easy. True, the fish may be larger in the deep blue Atlantic off Ocean City, but the water there is rougher, the quarry more elusive and the travel from Washington at least more complicated.
Up and down the bay, charter captains take families and groups of friends out for thousands of fishing trips every year. Eighty licensed charters run out of Calvert County alone, the most of any Maryland county.
"Charter fishing is probably our biggest attraction," says Herman Schieke, tourism director for Calvert County. "Without our charters, Calvert County just wouldn't be the same."
Recreational anglers spend $475 million in Maryland every year, according to estimates by the American Sportfishing Association, the national anglers' trade organization. If you think the sport sounds about as exciting as counting dust specks, consider another association estimate: 50 million Americans fish for fun more than play golf and tennis combined.

More than a few of those 50 million are spending time at Breezy Point where, at the Breezy Point Fishing Center, Lee Hurrey is brewing coffee and making sandwiches, shaving deli meat and packing it between two pieces of white bread, with a slice of sweet pickle on top.
"Maryland is known for its fishing," says Ms. Hurrey, whose family owns the shop. "People like to get an early start."
She sells bait, sunblock, soda everything you need for a good day of fishing, even when the fishing isn't good. Ready fishermen lean against the wall outside, chatting and smoking cigarettes, waiting for 6 a.m., when the shop is allowed to sell beer.
The charter boat Killin' Time II, gleaming white and wet in the sunlight, is aflurry with activity. Captain Chuck Howes is in the cabin, adjusting instruments, and checking wind and water conditions. The boat's mate, Andy Brinsfield, unties ropes, settles ice blocks into a storage bin, and rigs rods and reels with various baits of which kind Mr. Howes doesn't wish to say. Each charter has its own baits, lures and tricks, and their captains guard their trade secrets.
The Killin' Time II (the first Killin' Time was sold several years ago) plies the middle Bay that is, roughly between Cove Point and Holland Point. Other charters specialize in the upper bay near Baltimore, the lower bay around Williamsburg and Hampton Roads, the Annapolis area between the Severn and the South rivers or the Eastern Shore between the Chester River and the Choptank River.
John Sturgeon's charter group arrives, slapping backs and shaking hands with Mr. Howes and Mr. Brinsfield. Mr. Sturgeon is celebrating his 40th birthday; he and his friends have been fishing with Mr. Howes for five years.
"Chuck does everything he can to make sure his charter gets their money's worth," says the aptly named Mr. Sturgeon. "We always have a good time with him, and we always catch our limit."
"The regulars are my favorite groups to take out," Mr. Howes says. "I enjoy seeing familiar faces coming down the ramp."
Mr. Sturgeon, of Springfield, is a carpenter for the Fairfax County Facilities Management Department. He has come with his supervisor, Joe Wilhelm, and co-worker Marvin Rodriguez. Mr. Wilhelm's stepson, Ryan Stonemetz, 15; Mr. Wilhelm's brother Jamie; and Jamie's buddy Bob Rafferty are aboard.
Mr. Sturgeon's 8-year-old son, Austin, dashes around the deck like his nickname, "Rocket," his white-blonde hair glowing against his red face. His dad smears his pale skin from head to toe with 40-level sunblock, and Austin squints in frustration but doesn't dare complain in front of the guys.
It's not a boys'-only club. Mr. Sturgeon's and Mr. Wilhelm's wives typically fish, too, but both are working today Shannon Sturgeon as a computer-program analyst with the Environmental Protection Agency, Christine Wilhelm as an administrative assistant for the Fairfax County Police Department.
They are not forgotten. The guys will call them repeatedly from cell phones as the day passes: "Whatcha doing? Working? Hey, we're fishing."
At 6:15, the Killin' Time II churns away from the dock for its day on the Bay.

Mr. Brinsfield handles the technical aspects of the fishing so that the party, knowledgeable fishermen themselves, can relax. Distinct tan lines show beneath the cuffs of his knee-length, baggy shorts as he works. He sets seven thick black rods into metal cylinders along both sides of the boat, one for each person in the party. On each rod a heavy steel line, color-coded for depth, is baited and set with a 2-pound weight the size of a fist. The lines are drawn through the water by the boat's motion.
In the cabin, Mr. Howes wears a Killin' Time Charters cap as he steers from his swivel chair, talks with other captains on the radio and watches the four black monitors on his console: a global-positioning satellite system, depth indicator, fish finder and charting program that marks the boat's current and previous routes with squiggly, colored lines.
Like most charter captains, Mr. Howes makes his living this way. After a 25-year career with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, he takes old pros and young novices out for the best of bay fishing from April to December.
"I live for this, getting to come out here every day. It's a lot of work we're out here pretty much every day of the fishing season but it's worth it."
While some environmental groups say fishing is cruel and harmful to fish populations, angling advocates say there is a difference between a family fishing outing and commercial trawling. After a career with the Department of Natural Resources, the organization that regulates Maryland's charter fishing, Mr. Howes insists that fishing helps the environment.
"Fishing helps people appreciate the Bay," he says. "Sometimes I take people out who have lived in Maryland for years and have never seen how beautiful it is. They say, 'I can't believe this is here.' Without us, they might never know."
Mr. Howes also knows the importance of catch limits. He grew up hunting and fishing this area, and wants it to remain viable for future generations.
"Fish, if maintained within proper limits, are a renewable resource. If we catch our limit, that's it, we don't take any more. Most customers keep their catch and eat it. Nothing goes to waste."
Anyone who has fished may find charter fishing more hands-off than what they are accustomed to.
"We do most of the fish handling; fins can be very sharp," says Mr. Brinsfield, who recently was hurt when a rockfish fin sliced through his foot.
But the relaxed nature of charter fishing makes it easy for inexperienced anglers to enjoy. A look at the Killin' Time II photo album shows men and women of all ages and races smiling, hoisting their catches, children holding fish bigger then they are. Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening grins in a picture from his day on the boat two years ago.
Charter fishing is also safe. Mr. Howes is licensed with the Coast Guard and various charter fishing agencies, as evidenced by the many framed certificates hanging around the cabin. His pristine boat is inspected every year.
"The Coast Guard even inspected the plans before it was built," Mr. Howes says. Although licensed to carry as many 34 passengers, the boat usually takes eight to 10 people "so everyone gets a good fishing experience," Mr. Howes says.

The first target today is the rockfish or striped bass, the No. 1 sport fish in Maryland. Charter boats such as the Killin' Time II target a number of types of fish rockfish, bluefish, croaker, bottom fish. It's up to the charter.
Today's veteran group wants only one thing.
"Rockfish are great because they are tough fighters, and they don't taste 'fishy,'" Mr. Wilhelm says. "You can throw them on the grill in aluminum foil with some butter and onions, and they're really good."
They're also big. The minimum legal size of a rockfish is 18 inches, but it's common to hook one 40 inches or longer sometimes several at the same time. The guys had this sort of luck their last time out, and they'd like it again.
By 6:30 the Killin' Time II is making lazy loops around the water, the lines ready to go. None of the seven lines is assigned to any one person; fishing parties commonly set up a kind of batting order so that when a fish hits any rod, the person whose turn it is will reel it in. The men are still deciding who will go first when, at 6:35, the first fish hits.
Austin gets the first turn. With help from Dad, he hooks the butt of the rod into a tiny waist harness and cranks his little arm as fast as it can go. The result is a 23-inch rockfish.
Mr. Sturgeon is up next and hauls in a surprise: a silvery, pink-speckled trout as Austin cheers, "Go, Daddy, go."
The group catches a rockfish every four or five minutes, all healthy and 20 to 30 inches. Mr. Brinsfield is constantly moving; he works only for tips an arrangement that is common across the charter industry and the more fish he helps catch and clean, the more money he'll make.
The water is calm, the shore always in sight. Mr. Howes points out Tom Clancy's house (huge, even from a mile away). Other charters fish at a courteous distance, and the occasional tugboat lumbers along the horizon. Fearless stingrays glide by the side of the boat, the tan tips of their wings flipping above the waves with small sprays. In between fish are jokes, coffee and plans for when and where to cook the bounty at the end of the day.
Suddenly a rod tip jerks wildly.
Ryan is up. He is quiet and teenage-surly, with braces, gelled hair and dark jeans. He didn't want to come today, but he's at the reel in an instant. The strain of the line promises something great; Ryan can only reel a few cranks at a time. The men joke with him, trying to mask their nervous excitement:
"Lift some weights."
"Oh, it's just a skate."
Ryan's fighting a smile and a fish. Sweating, his face reddens as a large rockfish breaks the surface and is netted. At 37 inches, it's the biggest of the day and will earn him one of the citations Maryland awards for fish.
"My arms are numb," he says, rubbing his biceps. "It's cool though."
Once the men have their limit of two rockfish each, Mr. Brinsfield changes the lines for the smaller but spirited bluefish. Different fish respond to different types of bait and line length rockfish school at around 25 feet, while bluefish, which prefer a different bait, congregate closer to the surface.
"You all see 'em yet?" Mr. Howes yells out. The fish finder shows a large school just ahead.
And sure enough, there they are. Hundreds of feeding bluefish, flipping and gyrating silver streaks in the sun. The lines hit almost all at once, and the guys enjoy a frenzied period of catching so many fish that Mr. Howes has to come out and help.
By 1:30 p.m. the men are tired but satisfied; the boat turns and heads back for the marina. Mr. Brinsfield sets up a table at the back of the boat and begins cleaning the stiffened fish. Wearing mesh gloves, he slices through them with a long filet knife the way he might cut through butter.
As Mr. Howes eases the boat perfectly into the slip, the guys hop off and begin dividing up the catch. Austin isn't ready to leave; he stays on board tossing and catching a yellow, rubber worm. Clever crabs and minnows flutter underneath the back of the boat and attack the scraps of chum Andy tosses over.
It's been a successful day for Mr. Sturgeon and friends, thrilled to each take home a cooler full of catch.
"We're not in the fishing business but more in the entertainment business," Mr. Howes says. "We had a good day today, but we're not out to see how many fish we can catch. We just want everyone to have a good time."
It must have worked. Mr. Sturgeon has already arranged the next outing, for September.

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