- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 12, 2004

SOLOMONS, Md.

When Ken Lamb invites you to come flounder fishing, you go, no matter what else is on the schedule that day. And if he says you’ll be fishing aboard one of Tom Tippett’s boats, thank your lucky stars. Tippett is one of the more skillful Chesapeake Bay anglers you’ll ever meet — a man who easily could be a fine professional charter fishing captain. Alas, he doesn’t want the aggravation.

These days Tippett, former chief of the D.C. Fire Department, spends many of his waking hours on the water. Though he enjoys scouring the waters and catching every species of fish the Chesapeake is home to, his particular specialty is dropping weighted baits to flounder.

On a late weekday morning when we met him at the Solomons public boat ramps, he showed up in a 21-foot center console boat, complete with a sun-shielding Bimini top, rods and reels, as well as a small pail filled with lively bull minnows.

As soon as we headed into the mouth of the Patuxent, our trio of anglers faced a white-capping Chesapeake Bay. Tippett wiped a gust of salty spray from his face and said, “We don’t need to beat ourselves up in these waves. Let’s go back to my dock and switch to a bigger boat.”

He pushed down the throttle handle of a 200 horsepower Mercury outboard motor and reached his home near Point Patience in minutes. The fishing equipment, refreshments and bait were quickly transferred to a beautiful, custom-built 42-foot fiberglass fishing cruiser, sporting a three-seat flying bridge. The boat had plenty of Cummins diesel power that could take on the Chesapeake’s rough waters and love it.

After a brief run across the bay, straight east out of the mouth of the Patuxent, we slowed around Buoy 76, and Tippett began to show what he’s made of. His eyes were fixed on the screen of a depth finder as he looked for a hard bottom area that fell in staircase-like fashion from 18 feet of water to 70 feet and more.

Tippett quickly found his desired fishing zone — a ledge, 30 feet down, that had provided him with scads of flounder his last time out. As he maneuvered the boat into a proper drift, Lamb and I rigged two-hook bottom outfits with 3-ounce sinkers, slipped a 6-inch strip of meaty bluefish (skin on) onto each hook, then added a live minnow on top of it. (Later, after catching our first legal flounder, we’d cut the white belly of the flounder into exquisite bait strips.)

“Are you ready?” Tippett asked. “Let’s start fishing. Put ‘em over the side.”

I made a short cast with the tasty offerings, allowed the bait to find bottom, closed the reel and watched intently as the boat slowly drifted along — the wind pushing us in one direction, the outgoing tide trying to pull us in another.

Suddenly, my rod bent over, and something was at the business end of the line. It was a flounder, just legal at 16 inches long, beautifully marked with a brown top skin and mottled splotches of beige, and a belly as white as snow.

The drift continued and Tippett stuck the hook to a flounder that he released, wondering aloud where the really big flatfish were. (He’d found flounder up to 21 inches long in the same stretch only a few days earlier.)

Lamb, meanwhile caught one young bluefish after another, then finally reeled in a flounder that met the legal minimum. It was deposited in the fish box.

Eventually, Tippett urged us to reel up our lines so he could run toward Buoy 74. He then slowly adjusted the boat to drift closer to the fish-rich ledge and we marveled at the number of strikes we received from flounder and blues. Despite a rough sea and very few other boats in the vicinity, there was no letup in hungry fish that attacked our baits.

It’s not known why the flounder congregate along the eastern side of the Chesapeake, including also the Hooper’s Island Light area, every year in summer and early fall. But they are there, and Tippett says they might well stick around through October.

Our count that late morning came to well over 20 flatties, although we kept only a few, along with scads of young bluefish, of which we kept eight.

Meanwhile, Lamb hopes Tippett is right about his prediction that these fish will stay into October. His popular Tackle Box store in Lexington Park carries everything a flounder drifter could possibly want. From colorful Chincoteague double-hook rigs to minnows, rods, reels, nets and plenty of information, Lamb has it. The only thing you need to own is a boat that can handle big water. Johnboats and little runabouts are not recommended.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report every Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.


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