ANNAPOLIS -- It is a short run from Mill Creek on the west side of Whitehall Bay to the Bay Bridge, just enough time for Capt. Ed Darwin to sip his way through a cup of coffee and sort out the day ahead.
After several days of wet, windy weather, Wednesday held promise. The breeze was almost nonexistent, the cloud cover thinning and the tide 2 1/4 hours from being low at Sandy Point.
"We have one rule aboard the Becky D," said Darwin, who spent a career teaching shop in the Baltimore City school system before retiring and turning his avocation into a full-time profession. "No one can be bashful. See food you like, you eat it. Have a question you want to ask, ask it."
Well, for starters, what tricks did the old schoolteacher have up his sleeve for the day?
"Well, I think we'll try casting to the bridge for a while, and maybe then some trolling farther south," Darwin said. "If we do as well as I'd like at the bridge, we might never have to go trolling."
As well as Darwin would have liked would have been a trophy rockfish for each of the five of us. It was, after all, the tail end of the spring trophy season and Darwin already had accounted for a good number of stripers over 36 inches, including one that was released and was estimated at 75 or 80 pounds, 10 or 15 pounds larger than the state record set May 14 at 64.7 pounds.
And even though the water near the bridges was clearer than it has been since early May, none aboard was dreamy enough to really think that trophies would come in bunches.
As we neared the bridges, starting with the cluster pilings of the south span, west of the ships channel, in 35 or 40 feet of water, the radio crackled and Capt. Bob Spore came over the intercom.
Going to pass up the bridges, he said, head farther south and troll for bluefish. Word was they were up as far as Buoy 1A near the mouth of the West River.
While Spore rumbled on, Darwin moved the Becky D at a crawl alongside the bridge pilings, the west and east rock piles, and the massive, concrete center supports of the north span.
"The trick is," Darwin said, selecting a pork rind and slipping it over the hook of a white bucktail, "to cast to the rip, where the tide separates as it pushes past the wall or piling.
"Right on the inner edge is where the fish will be -- if they are there at all."
There were few fish at the bridge, but three stripers over two feet but well under the 36-inch legal minimum did fall for white twister tails that Rip Deladrier of Annapolis rigged up.
Starting with a six-inch twister, Deladrier cut about an inch off the head, reducing the length of the lure so that the tail fluttered nicely just behind the hair skirt of the bucktail.
With the tide going slack at the bridge, Darwin headed down the bay, off the mouth of the South River, about midway between Thomas Point and Buoy 1A. On the run south, Spore crackled across the radio again to report the first bluefish of the day, a 15-pounder, taken outside and south a little way from Buoy 1A.
From Darwin's spot below Thomas Point, more than a dozen charter boats and private fishing boats could be seen circling Buoy 1A. But where we were, stripers were coming aboard regularly, with several of them hitting the starboard dummy line, running closest to the bottom in 24 feet of water.
One theory, after weeks of having the fish in the top 10 to 15 feet of the water column, was that the improved clarity -- the result of a clearing of a red tide that had lingered from the bridges almost to Poplar Island for about two weeks -- had forced the fish deeper.
To compensate, the lines were dropped back from 90 feet to about 130 feet, and Deladrier again was feeling creative.
With the sunlight increasing, Deladrier picked out a large, bright chartreuse sassy shad that shimmered with flecks of sparkle.
"This," Deladrier said as he set the sassy shad on a chartreuse and white bucktail, "is going to be the lure du jour."
While Deladrier rigged the green plate special, Darwin was working his way into the convoy that circled Buoy 1A, concentrating on the humps and oyster bottom outside of the mark.
"I am marking fish," Darwin said, watching the color fish finder and almost chuckling. "There are fish here, but they are almost right on the bottom."
The tide, by shortly after 11, was almost three hours before flood at Shadyside, inside the mouth of the West River. At Buoy 1A, the tide would be moving quickly across the humps and oyster bars, washing with it the things stripers like to eat.
And for a while we could be assured that the more the fish ate the better we would feel.
For a couple of hours, repeatedly Darwin put us on fish -- first on the outside of the mark and then on the inside, as the stripers seemed to follow the scour of the tide in across the humps and bars toward the West River.
None of the three dozen or so fish we caught approached trophy size, but several were within a few inches and all were robust, a good sign for future years.
This year's striper season came close to its end without a trophy, but with a bang.
Five fish on at once.