TILGHMAN -- Two mallards locked up and slid to a landing beyond a barrier of reeds. A heron stood on one leg, its head cocked, its eyes scanning the shallows for a meal. Behind us, the sun, 90 minutes up, began to escape a cloud bank, and Capt. Buddy Harrison throttled up the Pleasure Merchant as we escaped Knapps Narrows.
The weather forecast had been for morning rain and gusty wind early after noon, but the day broke mostly fair as the 42-foot Merchant ran strong southwest -- beyond The Hook and toward the 50-foot bottom contour along the edge of the main channel in Chesapeake Bay.
When the lines first went down, we were north of Devils Hole and, I think, well south of Brownie's Hill -- not that it matters much when a captain is working what have been his home waters for as many years as I have been alive.
The best of it is to enjoy the ride and wait for the reels to begin clicking off line.
There were 10 of us aboard -- Harrison, two mates and seven anglers of various ilk -- and our intention was to scare up a few bluefish, if any were yet to be found in the Middle Bay.
True, March and April had been unusually cool and there had been no reports of hook-and-line catches of blues in any Maryland waters. But who was to say that we might not get lucky.
Besides, the event had been scheduled for the last Saturday in April for decades. And, in the best tradition, the show would go on.
Bill Burton, recently retired as the outdoors editor of The Evening Sun, has been the ringmaster of this show for 35 years, and those who fish it do so by invitation only. Last weekend there were enough people along to fill four charter boats, a quarter of the fleet that operates out of Harrison's Chesapeake House on Tilghman Island.
The anglers on the Pleasure Merchant offer a cross-section of those who have joined the troupe through the years -- Sen. Barbara Mikulski, DNR Secretary Dr. Torrey C. Brown, Sun columnist Sylvia Badger, U.S. Marshall Scott Sewell, bass guide and author Ken Penrod and Burton.
It is fair to say that all left their titles at the registration desk, and pleasure was the merchandise of the day.
For Mikulski, a chance to speak of troublesome children blossoming into responsible youths through an urban gardening program, and to wonder aloud how more plots might be tilled so that others might bloom.
For Brown, a time to look around and see the results of the work his departmental personnel have put into one of our more important natural resources and to pick lightly at the political puzzles that are Ross Perot and Paul Tsongas.
For Sewell, a break from drug interdiction and a chance to talk big bass and fast boats with Penrod, who for a day at least was something of a stranger in a strange land.
And now and again the reels would click off line.
Badger was the first to hook up with a fish, a striper of more than two feet -- the first she had caught and larger by far than the blues she was used to around the Bay Bridge.
Sewell was next, bringing in a striper that bettered 30 inches, followed by a writer who mis-set the hook, Mikulski and Brown.
Without the blues, the day became, in effect, a preview of what awaits us all starting on Friday when the spring trophy season for rockfish opens. It also was proof that the rockfish are there, if you know where to find them.
Brown's striper, at about 38 inches, was the largest of the day.
Perhaps the funniest moment was provided by Mikulski, who stands somewhat less than five feet and hooked up with a three-foot striper somewhere north of Brownie's Hill and south of the Old Gas Buoy.
After a struggle, Mikulski's fish was netted and, as it was held briefly for photographs, she said: "I think this fish is bigger than some of the guys I have dated."
Spring rockfish season
When: May 1-May 31
Size limit: rockfish (striped bass) 36 inches or longer
Creel limit: one per person per season
Fishing hours: 5 a.m. to 8 p.m., with possession while on the water prohibited from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Special restrictions: Fishermen trying for stripers must obtain a free permit from an area tackle shop or DNR office before going out . . . Live baits, including eels, are prohibited as is the use of gaffs . . . Stripers of legal size must be checked in the day they are caught . . . Fishing will be allowed only in the main bay from the north span of the bay bridge south, and Pocomoke and Tangier sounds.