Falling hook, line and sinker for the lure of a fishermen's hangout

June 21, 1994|By ELISE T. CHISOLM

What are they doing in there? I'd wondered for a long time. Running numbers? Are girls dancing on bars, are lottery tickets being awarded as door prizes?

For two years I sat having a great hair day at the beauty shop next door and watched the people coming and going. Men in business suits, men in cut-offs, women in cut-offs, women in business suits, from 8 a.m. on it looked like Kmart on a sale day.

Often police cars pulled up, even a crime lab van.

Uh-oh, I knew there was something fishy about the place.

OK, I found out. I walked in. And fishy was the operative word. The store sells all kinds of fishing gear.

It is the fly fishermen's oasis in these parts, tucked away on the county side of Edmonson Avenue in Catonsville. Called "The Fisherman's Edge," it had me on edge until I got to know the owner and his sidekick.

The guys hanging out in there are so friendly, so open to visitors, that I decided to stay awhile. Full of local and international gossip, fish stories, sure, and lots of Bubba talk, the Edge is a place that fisher-folk go to "have a nice day."

Laid-back owner Joseph Bruce, 46, bearded and genial, and his co-worker, Howard Wode, 72, are both veteran fishermen with veteran knowledge.

Ice, snow, rain or heat wave, the place is crowded.

Lining the walls is fish-a-mania, things called "holographic tubing" (don't ask me to explain), colorful feathers for luring (how can a fish be so dumb?) and hand-crafted rods. Hand-poured worms, salt- impregnated worms (don't ask me about that, either), vests, jackets, tackle bags and waders.

Ever since Joe Bruce was 5 years old, he's been fishing.

"I was building my own tackle when I was 15. But I had to choose a profession -- I became an architectural draftsman," he says.

"Maybe it was the restless '70s or when I went to Vietnam that I decided to give up white-collar work and open a fishing shop. It is probably every serious fisherman's dream, to take a hobby and make it into a business. I did."

A native Marylander and in love with the water, Joe, along with Howard, gives free lessons to new fly fishers behind the store in the parking lot.

L Joe has never regretted jumping into the water, so to speak.

The recessions?

"Actually," he adds, "in bad times people are more likely to turn to fishing -- they figure: 'What the heck. I can't cope with my problems today, I'll go fishing.' "

Drawn by the colorful feathers on the walls that would make great earrings, I asked, "How hard is fly-fishing?"

"Well, you have to learn to cast. Fly-fishing is an intimate sport. You have to use your hands. It is rhythmic, calming -- that's why women are good at it. Twenty percent of my customers are women, and to tell you the truth, women are sometimes better fly casters because men's 'macho-ness' gets in a man's way. Fly-fishing takes timing, not strength."

Most of his clients are middle age and over.

And the cops? "Oh, policemen love to fish; it is a complete getaway," Joe explains.

Their customers come from as far away as West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

And what do they talk about?

Joe tells me, "Mostly political jokes -- lots of Clinton stories."

"Most talk about their problems, and, of course, we usually solve them, right here," adds Howard as he lights up his pipe and smiles.

Howard, a retired paramedic and firefighter, takes no salary. "I work about 60 to 70 hours a week here, because I love it. It's pretty different from what I used to do."

I tell them both that I wouldn't mind fly-fishing if I had the time.

But I think that's what fly-fishing is all about -- stretching your time, embracing freedom, kinship with the water, and the opportunity to tell about the "biggest fish" you've ever caught, or thrown back.

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