- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 1, 2003

SOLOMONS, Md. — The charter vessel Miss Susie left Calvert Marina a little before 7a.m. By 9a.m., five trophy-sized striped bass reposed on crushed ice and captain John Montgomery sounded apologetic. “We should have had more fish by now,” he said. “I don’t know why they aren’t cooperating.”

Come again? The fish aren’t biting?

Perhaps skipper Montgomery ought to look around and check with the 400 or 500 other charter boat captains on the Chesapeake Bay to see if they can put five beautifully marked, healthy, heavy rockfish into the boat in the space of two hours. Here’s betting my best casting rod and reel that only very few of his fellow captains can match such a performance on a windy, rain-threatening day. Besides, we had not finished fishing.

To spend a morning with Montgomery and one of the hardest-working mates I’ve ever seen, Greg Buckner, is a treat. Montgomery’s boat, the 44-foot Miss Susie, is clean as an operating room in the local hospital and sports two powerful diesel engines that will move the sturdy craft along at a fair clip. Now add enough high quality trolling rods, reels, and umbrella-rigged Sassy Shads to outfit five boats and you begin to get the idea that this captain is dead serious about providing quality outings for his charges.

And when Buckner, 23, who also is a licensed charter fishing captain, does the mate’s chores and prepares the boat for a day of trolling, it isn’t a run of the mill trolling operation. No, not by a long shot.

It all started when the Miss Susie came out of the mouth of the Patuxent River, dodging crab pot markers, carrying the proprietor of Lexington Park’s popular Tackle Box store, Ken Lamb, as well as his brother, Bud Lamb, and Bud’s spouse, Sandy, along with Ken’s son-in-law, Truman Gambling, who lives in Lawrence, Kan. The charter vessel rounded the north side of the river mouth at Cove Point and entered the Chesapeake Bay not all that far from the famous Gas Docks fishing area while Buckner began to release the lines from — count ‘em — 20 rods. You’re not hallucinating. We said 20 rods.

Montgomery and Buckner soon let go of a port- and starboard-side planing device that allowed four lines to drag massive numbers of baitfish-imitating Sassy Shad lures; then there were four or five rigged rods stuck in holders on the stern of the boat; add also rods on the port and starboard gunwales, as well as the roof edges of the charter boat that contained more rod holders. The Miss Susie had so many rods poking out from all sides, she began to resemble a porcupine.

Any rockfish swimming along, hoping to wander into a snack, must have thought he was in the midst of a mirage. After all, there were enough bait fakes in the water. It didn’t look like a small school of fish — it appeared the entire school district was on hand quivering and slithering along, inviting the predators to sample the offerings, which happened quickly in relatively shallow 35- to 40-foot layers of water.

Bingo! The first rod went down and Bud Lamb soon brought in a whopping striper while Buckner made sure the lines didn’t tangle. Like orchestra conductors, Buckner and Montgomery managed to keep lines from crossing, tangling, keeping good order and reassuring the day’s participants of catches yet to come.

Down went another rod, but before it could be snatched from its holder, the rockfish broke off. It wasn’t long before yet another striper stayed on the hook, and Buckner swiftly snatched it from the bay’s surface and flipped it onto the deck as a couple of brown pelicans cruising along in the wind looked on with envy.

So it went for several hours. Catch a rockfish; lose a rockfish; catch another one.

It was fantastic. Montgomery said that it had been a long time since he’d seen such an odd spring as far as striper fishing was concerned.

“I believe the big fish that come into the bay to spawn in April have been staying here longer than usual,” said the 20-year veteran of charter fishing. “It’s the lower water temperatures that changed everything. I believe we’ll catch big fish — those of 28 inches or longer — through mid-June, maybe later. Right now, the water temperature stands at only 58 degrees. It should be 63 or 64 degrees.”

But no one was complaining, and when everybody aboard had a fat rockfish to carry home and make plans for more than one delectable dinner, Ken Lamb said, “Why don’t we head on in? We’ve got enough fish. I’m buying breakfast for everybody.”

What a delightful morning it turned out to be.

Captain Montgomery can be reached on his boat at 301/873-1327.

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]washingtontimes.com.

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