Talk takes bait from mackerel


April 17, 1994|By PETER BAKER

OCEAN CITY -- On those days when the fish don't bite -- and those days befall every fisherman or fishing captain at one time or another -- sometimes it is enough to keep an ear to the wall and to learn a bit of the pragmatic and the picayune sides of man.

Take last Thursday, for instance.

The word was out that the mackerel were running and two dozen anglers had made their way down through a thick Eastern Shore fog to the docks at the bayside foot of Talbot Street to board The Angler for a day of fishing.

By 6:30 a.m., the gunwales were lined with coolers, the prime rail positions marked by the rods of individual fishermen, and knots of men dozed or made small talk in the cabin seats or on the deck benches while waiting for the engines to be turned over and the boat to leave the dock.

"Need another pitcher," one young man in a fading, high school letter jacket was saying. "They have the batting, the fielding and some speed. But if the O's can't get another starter who can be better than .500, they won't catch Toronto."

His fishing partner, somewhat more the fan and less the pragmatist, was saying that Jamie Moyer or Arthur Rhodes or both could do the job -- and all the while punching small holes in his finger tips while untangling his mackerel rig.

In the cabin, a threesome of Redskins fans down from Alexandria, Va., armed with a copy of the other paper, had set up a damage control center.

"Now Rypien's gone, too. First Art Monk and now Mark Rypien," a large, gray-haired guy in a Redskins cap was saying. "I guess Coleman's next. They can release all the old guard except Monte. Got to keep the old man, he's the real leader of the defense."

The talk of the Redskins worked its way to general manager Charley Casserly, and the consensus was that as a GM he still was riding the coattails of Bobby Beathard, who had put together a decade of top teams and then went off with his surfboard to play about on the West Coast.

"Casserly, he can't even . . ." and the words of the guy in the 'Skins cap were lost in the rumble of diesels as The Angler fired up its two engines.

On the foredeck, a guy dressed from head to toe in camouflage was holding court with a pair of retirement-age men, both of whom had driven down from Silver Spring for their annual mackerel trip.

"Heard they caught them a little on Saturday and a lot on Tuesday," the fish hunter was saying. "So I drove up from Wilmington for the day."

"You mean down from Wilmington, don't you?" asked one of the Silver Spring gentlemen, while tying the straps of a large, white canvas hat beneath his chin.

"No, I mean up," said the fish hunter. "Up from Wilmington, N.C. And now I am starting to wonder why I made the drive at all. 'Cause we ain't going to catch any fish on a nice day like this. Got to be wind and rain and nasty weather to catch fish, everybody knows that."

The guy in the wide-brimmed hat feigned devastation and said, raising his hands as if to plead, "Don't say that. That's been the story of my whole life."

And certainly that of last Thursday, through no lack of effort by the captain and crew of The Angler, a new 65-foot headboat built to replace the old, wooden Angler that sailed from the Talbot Street docks for many years.

Through six hours, The Angler -- almost always in sight of the O.C. Princess and the Miss Ocean City, another pair of headboats out for the day -- ran to wrecks and drop-offs off Ocean City, more than a dozen times marking schools of mackerel on the depth finder, and telling the fishermen to drop their hooks.

By midmorning, the Redskins fans were dozing in the cabin, the Orioles fans had one six-inch mackerel between them and the two Silver Spring gentlemen were working on a skunk.

The fish hunter, meanwhile, doggedly was lifting and dropping his mackerel rig at each stop and muttering from time to time that there at least ought to be a dogfish down there willing to take the large diamond jig he was using as a weight.

At the transom, a half dozen non-English-speaking men had been clustered through the day, and measuring their mood was a simple matter of watching their faces, as their early-morning smiles faded to mid-morning frowns. By noon, they were drifting off in shifts to nap on the deck benches.

The mackerel were not hitting, except for perhaps a dozen six-inch fish and a handful or two twice that size.

"This isn't mackerel fishing," said one wag, as he passed from the afterdeck into the cabin and dropped onto a bench. "This is just a $30 boat ride."

The fish hunter, sitting in the lee of the cabin side, grunted, rested his feet on the gunwale and pulled his cap down over his eyes.

"No, this is just what happens when you come out for mackerel on a bluebird day."

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