- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 23, 2004

NEWBURG, Md.

“On the right, on the right. The front rod is down,” shouted charter fishing captain Steve Riha with a broad smile. Happy pandemonium had erupted on Riha’s pontoon boat. The fish were biting, and the look on the faces of satisfied customers who strained against wildly objecting creatures under the Potomac River’s surface gladdened the professional guide’s heart.

While the 6-foot fishing rod on the starboard side was doubled over in its rail-mounted receptacle, jumping up and down like a crazy Mexican bean, another rod on the left side of the boat also did a dance.

Robert Brock-Smith Sr. snatched up the starboard rod and reeled in a fat Atlantic croaker while his daughter, Angela, did the same a few feet away. Brock-Smith had finally gotten into the kind of fish he’d been dreaming of all winter.

“Croakers are not only fun to catch, they’re great to eat,” he said, and who could possibly disagree?

What attracted the Brock-Smiths to Riha’s little charter operation was the price — $100 for a half day of fishing for up to four people — plus the congenial nature of the captain, an easygoing retired policeman and Vietnam War veteran. Having known Riha for many years, I can say that if you don’t instantly like this man, there’s something wrong with you — and both Brock-Smiths would agree with me.

Riha’s straight talk is legendary. When our half-day outing was scheduled, the tall captain said, “We’ll have a decent tide to start with, but when it turns things will slow down a little. I’d say we’ll catch about 25 to 30 croakers. In the days to come, those numbers will increase quite a bit what with the water getting warmer and the days and nights entering their summer mode. Croakers like warm weather.”

As the Brock-Smiths fished, Angela preferred to hold one rod in her hand while watching two others; her father sat in one of the deck-mounted swivel chairs and surveying all the shrimp-and squid-baited fishing outfits. Both anglers did well, swinging croakers over the railings every so often.

Riha won’t stay long in any one spot if he senses that the fish aren’t cooperating quickly, but when he finds them he prefers to anchor his boat. Of course, his eyes are constantly glued to an electronic locator.

“I don’t know why, but I can get more fish while being anchored,” he said. “Some people like to drift along like they’re flounder fishing. I don’t care to do that when the croakers come into this river.”

Riha uses standard bottom fishing rigs with two snelled hooks, one high, the other low, with 2- or 3-ounce sinkers, depending on the pull of the tide, which can be tremendous some days.

By 11:30 a.m., after 4 hours on the tidal Potomac between Charles County, Md., and King George County, Va., Riha’s prediction rang true. There were 30 croakers in the ice chests of the Brock-Smiths. Later this month and throughout June and July, you shouldn’t have any trouble hooking 25 croakers per person during each outing.

No more than a mile away, the skipper’s home port, the Aqualand Marina next to the high-span Route 301 bridge, was in full view. Incidentally, the marina has been revamped quite a bit with rental boats, a crab shack, snack shop and gas pump for the visitor.

The Coast Guard-licensed Riha can be reached at his Colonial Beach office in the evenings: 804/224-7062. Be reminded that Riha books heavily during weekends but often has regular weekdays available.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]

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