- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 8, 2007

COBB ISLAND, MD.

Steve Riha isn’t your typical, run-of-the-mill charter fishing captain; not by a long shot. For starters, when he searches for fish he takes his customers only into the saltier portions of the tidal Potomac River or one of its tributaries, but never the Chesapeake Bay. He rarely, if ever, trolls for his catches. And in all the years that I’ve known him I’ve never seen a frown on his face. The man is always happy.

His friendly demeanor is the primary reason that Robert Brock-Smith Sr., his daughter Angela Baylor and her husband Reginald Baylor last week sought him out for a day of croaker fishing. It was Mr. Baylor’s first encounter with Riha, but his wife and father-in-law are repeat customers.

Riha’s charter boat is perfectly designed for river use. It’s a 24-foot-long pontoon boat, comfortably outfitted with a fold-up sun roof, padded bench seats, rod holders and coolers, not to mention a radio with a station that is locked in a permanent state of 1950s and 1960s music.

“I prefer to have only four customers aboard,” Riha said as he slowly idled from Shymansky’s Marina through Neale Sound on his way to the Potomac. “It makes it a lot easier because people won’t have to bump into one another as they’re casting or bringing in a fish.”

In less than 15 minutes he entered the river, scouring the bottom with an electronic depth locator, looking for underwater humps and sharp dropoffs that often are sought by schools of the tasty hardheads, as locals call them. No sooner had he found an area that promised a deep, declining bottom into which he wanted to drop an anchor when a Dahlgren Naval Weapons Surface Center patrol boat approached his craft. The Virginia-based operator gently reminded the croaker captain that there’d be firing tests conducted over the nearby down-river range. That meant that Riha had to stay safely outside the bright-yellow/orange range buoys.

“That’ll keep me from going to a spot where I found a number of croakers last week, so now we’ll have to go into the Wicomico River,” he said before heading back into Neale Sound and the small sound’s opposite end that touched the Wicomico, a broad Potomac tributary. The tide had been extremely low, but slowly began to rise.

As the water flow increased, the three District anglers began to see some action. First it was Reginald Baylor who latched onto a white perch, then a small croaker — both of which were drawn to the aroma of small slices of squid or thumb tip-sized pieces of peeler crab. He immediately began to boast about his success to his father-in-law.

“Hey, look who’s got some fish?” he taunted.

Angela Baylor was next as she latched onto a fine catfish, then a croaker. But as the tide climbed and rushing waters brought new supplies of fish into the river, Brock-Smith was not to be denied. Croakers, white perch and catfish took his baits and it was his turn to give back some of the friendly banter he’d endured earlier.

The croaker catches weren’t the best on this day on the Wicomico, but enough were caught to provide several good meals for Riha’s charges.

“Nowadays, you just never know,” Riha said. “One day they’ll bite like the dickens almost anywhere, the next day you have to hunt for ‘em.”

Riha’s customers, however, weren’t disappointed. They were happy.

You’d be, too, if you spent a half or full day with this captain. Riha can be reached at 804/224-7062.

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

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