- The Washington Times - Monday, November 4, 2002

The charter fishing boat Janet M II left Happy Harbor Marina at first light, her ship radio already cackling with chatter from a handful of other boats, all of them bobbing on the Chesapeake Bay with a single purpose: to hunt for sea trout.
The captains, most of them long-time professionals with four to six customers aboard their beloved deadrise boats the preferred mode of transportation on the Chesapeake for more than 80 years readily shared information. If one captain found a couple of the weakfish, as the soft-mouthed saltwater trout are sometimes called, they'd pass the word along in a kind of Bay-speak that rivals the Navajo code talkers of World War II.
A typical exchange might begin with, "Yeah, cap'n, I got two of 'em five minutes ago." Then the fishing skipper garbles the message, making the news unusable to private boaters and newcomers as he says something like "remember two months ago when we found them rockfish where Poonie 'bout sank his boat last winter? Well, I'm a mile south of there." Good luck trying to find the sender of such happy tidings in one of the biggest fishing holes in the U.S.
For charter boat captain John MacEwen, who's been at this game for more years than he cares to recall, it's typical trout weather when wind, rain and foreboding clouds combine to make the water look like slate; when boaters who don't have the stomach for inclement weather would just as soon stay in port and sip an Irish coffee, dreaming of steamy summers past.
That's the great thing about the sea trout that in recent years have rebounded so magnificently. The fishing for them actually turns better through October and well into November in mild years even December, when there will be heavy rockfish as well. And if autumn throws a fine day your way, with calm seas and a warming sun, well, it's a bonus to be appreciated.
"I'm really looking forward to catching trout," said octogenarian Charles Green, who lives in the District, as he held onto a wooden roof support on the Janet M II while she wallowed across the Bay. "I've been fishing with Captain John for 28 years, and I can't remember ever having a bad time. Heck, I even fished with him when I had a boat of my own."
Green, spry as a man half his 82 years, watched MacEwen's color depth finder, but when the charter skipper said, "There they are," he fairly ran toward the boat's stern, where stout spinning and casting rods awaited the anglers. The reels were loaded with 12-pound monofilament line, and at the business end of the lines were bucktails or jigs, hooks dressed with bright chartreuse, curly-tailed trailers.
Next to Green stood Charlie Coates, publisher/editor of the Fishing Line, a popular area fishing newspaper. Coates is a great believer of fish-attracting scents, and he generously dabbed his plastic bait with Smelly Jelly, a creamy substance with a shellfish fragrance that can make a difference when trout are truly finicky. I agree with Coates. The attractant soon found itself on my jig and its green, rubbery body.
The lures were lowered straight to the 35-foot-deep bottom in an area that wasn't far from the Bloody Point Lighthouse and the adjacent Eastern Bay, a fair run from MacEwen's home port of Deale. As I jigged the lure vertically up and down, up and down a sea trout grabbed it and the rod bent sharply. Green was next, and he soon wound in line with a wildly objecting saltwater trout at the end. Then Coates set the hook with a swift upswing of the rod and got a look at a trout, but it jumped off the hook just as MacEwen prepared to net it.
"Don't worry," said the captain. "There'll be others." He ran the charter boat in circles but couldn't locate the school again, so he reluctantly moved the craft south toward Tilghman Island, staying closer to the ships channel than the Eastern Shore isle. Bingo! MacEwen found a new school of trout in well over 30 feet of Bay water and quickly let some of his fellow captains in on the find by switching to a radio channel that average weekend boaters normally don't use. It wouldn't have done any good anyway what with him doing the code talking thing.
Again we got into the gray trout, losing a few, keeping enough to provide more than one delectable dinner. Several of the weakfish weighed well more than three and four pounds. There would be joy at home that night. Fresh sea trout fillets, lightly battered, seasoned, and pan-fried, are a taste treat. Even people who can't stand to eat fish will agree that the mild, sweet flesh of a gray trout is hard to beat.
By 1 p.m. the Janet M II had enough sea trout to make everyone aboard happy. It was time to return to Happy Harbor.
Captain MacEwen can be reached at 410/867-3273.
Look for Gene Mueller's Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report every Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail:[email protected]

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