SOLOMONS -- Along the charter-boat docks on Back Creek on Thursday morning, Rich Novotny asked a question that set the tone for the day ahead: "When else do you see charter-boat captains and members of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association really working together?"
Glen James, passing by as he handed out bait to captains of seven charter boats loading fishermen, responded: "Now, that is a good question."
Novotny is the executive director of the MSSA, and James is the president of the Solomons Charter Captains' Association. On this occasion, members of both groups again were going to work closely to benefit others in need.
"Today, we don't worry about catching only what we can eat," said Phil Hubbard, an MSSA member. "Today, we catch as much as we can legally so that others can eat."
For five years, the two groups have joined in a day of Fishing for the Needy, a program coordinated by Joann Wheeler of the Department of Natural Resources.
The bulk of the fishing is done by anglers from senior centers in Calvert, Charles, Prince George's and Montgomery counties. But the captains find the fish, and MSSA members, who serve as mates during the fishing, clean the fish when the boats return.
Cleaned and packed fish is donated to the Maryland Food Bank, which distributes it to various facilities.
In the first three years of this program, the bulk of the catch was bluefish. But, last year and this, the blues have been largely absent at this time of year.
"I think it will be spot that we'll be catching," said James, as he cast off the dock lines and the Bounty Hunter rumbled out of its slip. "We might get lucky with some blues or sea trout, but most of the blues are a couple of hours' run down the bay still."
So James' and the six other charter boats -- El Toro, Hat Trick, Float Broke, Fin Finder, Margie D and Miss Joan -- headed into the mouth of the Patuxent to bottom fish over acres of oyster shell.
"Might be kind of hard to fill this box with spot," Corbin Cogswell, an MSSA member who fishes regularly out of Middle River, said (( while cutting up bloodworms atop a cooler more suited to trophy stripers than 12-inch spot.
Cogswell was the mate for the day aboard Bounty Hunter, charged with baiting hooks for 11 anglers, sorting out tangles and perhaps even managing to get in some fishing himself.
"It doesn't really matter if I get to fish," Cogswell said. "I can fish all summer. Some of these folks only get to fish once a year."
And perhaps that is the added benefit of the Fishing for the Needy program, said Wheeler, who works directly with senior centers in her four-county area.
"Some of the seniors who come out here once a year are on fixed incomes," Wheeler said. "They really can't afford to hire charter boats, and this gives them a chance to get out and fish.
"When we started all this, we had some trouble filling the boats. But now that the senior centers know it is going to happen every year, they call us in January with a list of names."
Meanwhile, with James drifting the Bounty Hunter over the oyster bottom, large spot were coming into the boat regularly, and Cogswell had his hands busy and a smile on his face.
Before heading back to the docks at about 2 p.m., James had hit a half-dozen areas in the river mouth and finally headed around behind Solomons Island, to a small bay inside Point Patience.
By the time we reached the small bay, virtually everyone aboard was baiting his own hooks, sorting out tangles and unhooking catches.
Cogswell had managed to make his way to the transom with a spinning rod and a double bottom rig and was regularly pulling in large spot.
Back at the docks, Novotny headed a crew of fish cleaners who had their work cut out for them, so to speak.
The Bounty Hunter had brought in well over 200 large spot, and other boats were unloading similar numbers of fish.
"Charter boats and us working together?" Cogswell asked rhetorically. "All it takes is a good cause."
The Solomons Charter Captains' Association donated its boats for the day, Household Finance Corp. area offices donated funds for fuel and incidental expenses, and Calvert Marina, DNR and the Maryland Office on Aging also contributed to the program.