- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 26, 2002

MORGANTOWN, Md. — Charter boat captain Steve Riha might very well be the only professional sport fishing skipper in Chesapeake Bay country who operates from a comfortable 26-foot pontoon boat complete with padded swivel seats, gobs of rod holders and a sun-shading canvas top. So it comes as no big surprise that he often does a brisk business with folks who want to hook enough fish to make more than one delicious dinner without first having to secure a bank loan to pay for the charter fee.
People who hook up with Riha meet him at the Aqualand Marina in the tidal Potomac River, a stone's throw from the Harry W. Nice toll bridge that connects Charles County, Md., to King George County, Va. They pay $35 each for a frequently action-filled morning or afternoon that mostly concerns the catching of croakers but now and then also includes stripers, white perch and channel catfish.
"I'm having a great time," said Angela Brock-Smith, who drove to southern Charles County from her home in District Heights to see what the pontoon boat captain had to offer. As it turned out, two other anglers didn't show up to fish for "hardheads," as Marylanders call the bottom-feeding Atlantic croakers that currently are all the rage because they are quite tasty, plentiful and not very smart when it comes to eluding a baited hook.
Even with only one customer at the dock, captain Riha wasn't going to disappoint Brock-Smith. She would go fishing.
With local weather forecasters predicting stormy weather later in the day, Riha said, "Let's get out there and hook a bunch of hardheads before the rain and wind arrive."
Brock-Smith boarded the pontoon boat, picked a seat, and prepared for a long run that never materialized. You see, Riha's best fishing is done within half a mile of the marina.
The moment the U.S. Coast Guard-licensed captain reached an area upstream of the Route 301 bridge that showed an undulating river bottom, even a nearby, sharp channel drop that touched an adjacent, wide flat in 20 to 30 feet of water, he dropped a Danforth anchor that quickly buried itself in the mud. During the latter part of strong flood tide, the boat soon was held tightly by a long anchor rope, its broad, square bow pointing upstream toward the distant Mathias Point Light.
The charter captain quickly pulled apart a small, whole squid, flattened the flesh on a cutting board and cut it into finger-long, V-shaped slivers to serve as bait. He also thawed a dozen or so frozen shrimp, cutting each into two bait pieces, leaving the shell on the succulent flesh. Several rods with 2-hook, weighted bottom rigs were quickly baited and Brock-Smith expertly cast one set of the baits into the river. The top hook held a piece of shrimp; the bottom a slice of squid. Neither of the juicy offerings had completely settled on the river bottom when the rod doubled over in a severe arc.
"There you go," Riha said with a laugh. "That didn't take long, did it?"
Brock-Smith reeled in a wildly objecting croaker of about 15 or 16 inches and waved off an offer to help remove the hook. She wanted to do the job herself and did. The fish quickly found itself in a cooler on a bed of ice.
A minute later, her baited hooks again falling to the river ground, the action repeated itself, and she busily reeled in another croaker, then a third and a fourth one.
Brock-Smith was having a ball. But she also noticed a foreboding increase in the wind. Waves began to rise enough where they crested in white, foamy curls.
"We'll keep an eye on the water," said Riha. "If it begins to roll pretty hard, we'll pull the anchor and head in."
It happened just around the time the woman from District Heights pulled in the 25th croaker. The time: 9:10 a.m.
"I'd rather be safe than sorry," she said. "Besides, I have enough fish. I'm happy."
Riha's powerful Mercury outboard soon shuttled the small fishing party back to Aqualand.
If you're ready for a morning or afternoon of fun, fighting with a croaker or whatever else might sample the baits, enjoying the easygoing Riha's company, call him at 804/224-7062.

Look for Gene Mueller's Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report every Friday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]

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