- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 13, 2007

RIDGE, Md.

When charter boat captain Steve Davis made a date to show us a plentiful supply of Chesapeake Bay rockfish during the current trophy striper season, he couldn’t have known that it would blow a gale, as Southern Marylanders will say when land-bound flags stand rigidly from their poles and the water is being whipped to a froth by wicked east winds.

That’s precisely what happened as a friend and I arrived at the appointed meeting place on Smith Creek, not far from the Potomac River side of the famous Point Lookout.

“We can reschedule, or we can skip going out into the Chesapeake and try our luck in the river,” the youthful Davis said.

With gasoline costing nearly $3 a gallon, it wasn’t likely that we would drive back home without at least wetting a couple of lines. Before we could spell St. Mary’s County, Davis untied the docking ropes, and the squeaky clean Miss Valerie left the creek and headed toward the broad Potomac.

The moment the charter boat passed the Scheible family’s boat docks and entered the river, the sturdy craft’s bow sent a spray of salty water across the roof and deck. “Hello, Potomac,” said Peter Malnati, who had promised his wife he would come home with a whopping big rockfish. If nothing else, the man is an optimist because during the current trophy striper season he is restricted to only one striper a day that measures between 28 and 35 inches or one striper of 41 inches or more.

Davis only smiled as we discussed the probability of us tying into a couple of “keepers” that could provide wonderful baked, fried or grilled fish dinners, complete with buttery herbal sauces and tiny parsleyed red potatoes.

He quickly stripped several hundred feet of grass trimmer line that was attached to starboard and portside planer boards, which are all the rage among the fishing captains on the bay these days. He then dropped parachute bucktails dressed with 9-inch-long Sassy Shads in white or chartreuse over the side, feeding out the fishing lines a good distance before he snapped the reels’ monofilament to special clips, which were attached to the planer board lines that rode far out to the each side of the boat. If a fish struck one of the lures, it would pull free from its clip. An angler could fight the striper without pulling in heavy drop weights — the way it used to be done years ago.

In 45 feet of river water, Davis and his two charges for the day finished setting up 12 trolling rigs. It was chilly, although it was hard to tell by looking at Davis and his skimpy shirt. The wind speed increased with every passing minute, and the boat heaved and pitched but held a steady course. Suddenly, one of the planer board clips popped free.

“Fish on,” someone shouted and Davis quickly pulled the rod from its holder and handed it to Malnati. The fight was on.

Malnati eventually brought the rockfish close to the boat’s transom, while Davis slipped a gargantuan, soft-mesh net under the striper and pulled it onto the deck. It was a beautiful striped bass, bright silver with black stripes and it measured 41 inches. Malnati now could deliver the goods when he arrived home.

I brought in the next one — a muscular fish that didn’t want to be held up for a photo — twisting and turning. It measured 40 inches and had to be put back. Davis did it gently. Shortly after that I latched onto a legal keeper of 32 inches. I was happy, and Malnati was smiling wide.

Our captain mentioned how the lowest parts of the Potomac, from Point Lookout up to St. George’s Island, had been steady producers of rockfish this spring.

The trophy season’s last day is Tuesday. Then the fishing continues for 18-inch-and-over stripers of which anglers can keep two, but only one can be larger than 28 inches.

In matters of charter fishing, Davis is the total package. He is friendly, helpful and wonderfully skilled at his craft. He can be reached at 301/872-5499.

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

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