SOLOMONS -- Even when he seeks big fish, Jim Bowen thinks small. And there are times it pays off -- as it did when Bowen, Ebbie Smith, Cavert Bregel and I fished Capt. Robbie Robinson's charterboat Miss Regina out of Bunky's Fishing Center.
Bowen, of Prince Frederick, is not what one would call a conventional fisherman. He came aboard with a closed-face spinning reel, the same Zebco Omega 164 he uses for freshwater bass'n, though we had targeted saltwater fish on a day's junket at the mouth of the Patuxent.
"Don't worry about it," he assured the skipper as he turned down an offer to use a heavier rig. "This will do just fine."
And it did.
The 3-ounce sinker might have been a bit heavy for the rod, but Bowen didn't mind. He likes to use his own tackle and also likes to feel the fight of a fish, whether large or small.
It was a mix of fish large and small this day. That's the way it currently is at the mouth of the Patuxent, where a tug at the other end of the line can signal one of many different species. This area can match the Potomoc's mouth and Tangier Sound for a mixed bag.
The only disadvantage Bowen endured was failure to get the first fish. Next to him was Smith, armed with a bay rod and sinker big enough to anchor the boat -- and also heavy enough to drop his two hooks, one baited with a bloodworm and the other with a piece of crab, to the bottom 18 feet below as quick as lightning.
As soon as the rig touched the hard bottom, Smith hooked a nice spot. By the time he reeled it in, Bowen's line touched bottom, and he followed suit. We were at Southeast Buoy, it was sunrise, and the action was fast.
Many of the fish were hardheads an inch or two less than the legal minimum of 10 inches. But there were many Norfolk spot with a good representation of those of legitimate jumbo size, a few small flounder, and, of course, scores of pesky toadfish.
As the ebb tide slacked, so did the fishing, and we headed to Sandy Point off the steep sandy cliffs at the river's northern mouth, where things got even better -- and the toads even bigger. But in between the toads there came flounder, one out of three of which met the 13-inch minimum.
Hey, that's better than at Ocean City and maybe even Wachapreague and Chincoteague. The resurgence of flounder fishing in the bay is both surprising and welcome.
Thankfully, Robinson had alerted us to keep a few of our small spot earlier. When cut up, they make excellent flounder bait. We also sacrificed one flounder to make long, thin V-shaped belly strips to bait other flatties. They worked even better, but one is reluctant to waste a tasty flounder for bait.
Sea trout of up to 3 pounds also turned up at Sandy Point. They preferred bloodworms and crabs, as did the jumbo spot and the hardheads. There, we got one hardhead that just met the 10-inch minimum, but Smith was reluctant to keep it, fearing that if it dried out its length would slip just under that -- and we would be boarded by DNR Police.
Something else turned up at Sandy Point -- lizard fish, the long thin fish with the big head, sharp teeth and an appetite that
matches that of toadfish. They also match toads in edible value -- zilch.
From there we crossed the river to try some of the spots closer to Cedar Point Light, places like Hog Island, the Officer's Club and Green Holly, where things were slower, but still good by drift-fishing standards. In all, we not only had all the fish we could use, but we had variety, including a few bluefish.
The only thing available we didn't encounter were puppy drum and sea bass. The latter prefer squid strips, which we didn't have aboard.
Robinson also works evening fishing trips, starting at 4 o'clock, and continuing to well after dark. Some nights he loads up with big blues; other nights, it's sea trout and flounder and some keeper hardheads.
"It's the best bottom fishing we have had in years," said the skipper, who can be reached at 326-3998.