What's this old-timer's secret of fishing? You get a wink, a hint--don't ask more

OUTDOORS

April 14, 1991|By PETER BAKER

GREENSBORO,MD. — GREENSBORO,Md.-- A couple of miles north of this smal town in Caroline County, a dirt road leads east off Route 313 and ends at the west bank of the Choptank River. The place is called Red Bridges, and the fishing there can be busy in the spring when the perch and river herring are running.

Wednesday was such a day -- sort of.

At midmorning, a handful of anglers gathered at the small dam that stems the flow of the Choptank beneath a bridge that has fallen into disrepair and is closed to vehicular traffic.

On the east bank, two younger fishermen, each supplied with a (( 12-pack of beer and a five-gallon bucket, were having little luck. Their buckets were empty, as were the majority of their bottles of beer.

On the west bank, two older fishermen were filling their bucket with fish they intended to freeze and later would use as catfish bait.

As sometimes happens in such situations, the younger men decided to go west to find their fortunes.

"We haven't even seen a fish all morning, much less caught one," said one of the younger men, who had his baseball cap on backward or his head reversed. "What is your secret?"

One of the older men, a desperado named Earl Wilson, simply pointed down.

Many dozens of river herring, caught up in the swirl of water from the small dam 60 feet upstream, were being herded by the current into a large eddy along the west bank.

"Ain't no secret," Wilson said. "The fish are right here, all you got to do is hook 'em."

Hooking them was something neither of the younger men had managed to do, although a few feet out from the east bank a weaker eddy also was gathering many dozens of small perch and more herring.

There was one solution, said the younger man with his head on backward: "Net them. That's what we can do -- net them! Got a net?"

Wilson, 67, was fishing with a longtime friend, Paul Buckmaster. One of them had a long-handled shrimp net in their vehicle, and after some prodding by the younger man who might have had his cap reversed, Wilson fetched it.

From across the narrow river, a camera framed Wilson as he dipped the net into the swirl of the current. Amazingly, he caught no fish.

Wilson dipped again. The camera clicked and rewound, and the baseball cap asked across the water: "Hey, you taking pictures? Why are you taking pictures?"

The answer was simple enough: In this situation, and in most situations, using a dip net to catch fish is illegal in nontidal waters.

The baseball cap and his pal apparently knew this well, because they packed their gear and were quickly gone. They even had the courtesy to take their empties with them (must have been returnable bottles).

"Didn't mean to catch any fish that way," Wilson said later as he, Buckmaster and I stood along the west bank, ostensibly jigging. "Did mean to play them along some, though."

Together, he and Buckmaster are a pair undaunted and somewhat unregulated.

Buckmaster is a sports fan who ran a trolley car in Baltimore before retiring some years ago. These days, he says, he spends his days fishing and wondering why ballplayers can't be happy on $3 million a year -- "ballplayers you can't even call great."

"Is Nolan Ryan a great pitcher?," Buckmaster asks.

"No. He is a strikeout artist," Buckmaster answers.

"Was Walter Johnson a great pitcher?" Buckmaster asks.

"You bet he was," Buckmaster answers. "Won 416 games and lost only 279. Now that's a great pitcher."

As Buckmaster railed and remembered, Wilson was taking fish from the eddy with a curious and practiced jigging motion -- up, down, up, down, up, down, sideways -- that most people call snagging, another illegal method of fishing.

Where Buckmaster would ask questions and provide the answers, Wilson would often give the answer before being asked a question.

"No, ain't snagging," Wilson said as I watched fish after fish come up hooked through the top of the back. "Not snagging at all, but we can't help it if some of them get in the way when the hook's on the way up."

I suppose it also was coincidental that he used an oversized treble hook with just a touch of green tube and called it a lure.

"Paul's a sports fan," Wilson said, "knows all that stuff about all those players. Me, I don't care about any of it. I'm a fisherman."

A likable pair, Buckmaster and Wilson, but outlaws all the same.

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