Mining a market in backwaters Bay Bee has busy debut season

OUTDOORS

June 27, 1993

OCEAN CITY -- At the outdoor bar of the Ocean City Fishing Center, each evening the sport fishermen rumble in to be refueled, and their crews and charter parties ramble down the docks to recount the day's trips offshore in the Atlantic for tuna, shark and marlin.

The sport fishermen are high-profile operators, the stuff that helps sell fishing in this resort, and people gather along the jetties to watch them breach the inlet at 30 knots, flags flying, teak, bronze and stainless steel glinting, seas spooning away from their bows.

Tucked into the last slip on the north side of the cut that passes the fishing center fuel dock, there is an operation in direct contrast to the canyon runners, the Bay Bee, a converted 40-foot officers' launch that books bottom fishing trips on the back bays.

The Bay Bee, a headboat that primarily fishes for flounder, is in its first season of operation, and owner/co-captain Jim Hudson thinks he has found a comfortable niche in the backwaters of the White Marlin Capital of the World.

"There are a lot of people down here -- not just women and children -- that are afraid to go in the ocean," said Hudson, whose family has lived on a farm in nearby Bishopville for three generations. "The other day there were these three guys who looked like they were hard as nails, and they went out with us rather than go offshore."

On Thursday, co-captain Kim Hudson, a 20-year-old elementary education major at Salisbury State, had the helm of the Bay Bee for its four-hour afternoon excursion. Her mother, Judy Hudson, was the mate.

Onboard were nine customers, ranging from a 62-year-old, nine-ball billiards pro to a 5-year-old. The 5-year-old hooked more fish than anyone; the pool pro was skunked.

Paula Steele, whose husband, Don, had just placed second in a nine-ball tournament in Salisbury and played another tournament Baltimore Billiards this weekend, said it was her second trip on the Bay Bee in three days.

"We have been coming down here from Pennsylvania to Ocean City for 20 years," said Paula Steele. "When we had kids down here, there was never anything like this. I wish there had been."

By the end of the day, the pool pro was somewhat disgruntled after being shut out, and in truth the fishing was slow. Only a handful of 14-inch keepers were taken and crabs and sea robbins were more plentiful than even small flounder.

"We haven't had the tide right in this trip," said Kim Hudson, the first female headboat skipper in Ocean City. "The best combination is the morning trip when the tide is outgoing. But that is fishing, and you have to make the best of what's here when you are."

Jim Hudson said an hour after full tide is when the best flounder fishing seems to start.

"When the water stops running, when you have almost that standstill," said Hudson, whose operation provides minnow and squid baits and prefers to fish them in tandem, "the water settles down and clears. Then, before the tide runs back to fast, the fishing seems to be pretty good."

On the Thursday morning trip, Kim Hudson said, the fishing behind Assateague Island had been fairly good, and the tourists aboard had been treated to a number of the island's wild ponies romping in the bay.

Jim Hudson said that if the flounder fishing does not pick up, the Bay Bee also will go after spot, croaker and sea trout. "We are not limited to flounder," Hudson said, "but people seem to prefer them, and you put a couple of keepers together and you can have a nice meal."

Andrew Sciaruto, a 5-year-old from Pleasantville, N.Y., who was fishing with his dad, was frustrated early on Thursday afternoon. Three small flounder had jumped his hook.

When he finally got one aboard, he took one look at the flounder's formidable teeth, shuddered and backed away. But by the end of the four-hour trip, Andrew once again was at the stern rail, smiling and catching fish.

The Bay Bee is a plain and clean boat that is perfectly suited to the shallow waters of the back bays from Assawoman to Isle of Wight, Sinepuxent and Chincoteague.

"We are just getting started in this, really," Jim Hudson said. "There are some problems we have to iron out, but it can only get better."

The cost of the trip is $16 for adults and $12 for children under 13. Rod rentals are available for $4. Bait and ice are furnished.

Bookings on the Bay Bee may be made by calling the Fishing Center at (410) 213-1121. Trips depart Monday through Friday at 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. On Saturday and Sunday the boat departs at 9 and 11 a.m.

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