Once a year, a fanatial urge strikes: to take a fishing trip with grown-ups


April 27, 1996|By ROB KASPER

TODAY I GO FISHING with the grown-ups. This is one of the three types of fishing. The other two are fishing with your kid and fishing with a fanatic.

Fishing with the grown-ups is when you spend most of the day sitting on a comfortable chair on the deck of a good-size boat that glides around the Chesapeake Bay. I plan to do that today and to sip cold beverages, eat fried chicken for lunch, tell stories and take naps. Every once in a while I might be handed a fishing pole and ordered to reel in a fish. But maybe not. I am counting on handling more cold beverages today than flopping fish.

I fish with the grown-ups once a year. Every April, I am one of the collection of guys and gals summoned by outdoor writer Bill Burton to meet at Harrison's Chesapeake House, a rambling hotel, restaurant and boat dock on Tilghman Island on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

The night before the boats shove off, the group gathers in the restaurant and its lounge. Many oysters are eaten, many potables are downed, and many attempts at country-western singing are undertaken.

The next morning we get up entirely too early, eat entirely too much food for breakfast, then make our way to one of the half-dozen charter boats that will take us out to the gentle -- Boy, do we hope they are gentle! -- waters of the Chesapeake Bay to "catch fish." I am never quite sure which kind of fish we are after. One year it was bluefish, and we didn't catch any. Another year we caught rockfish but had to toss them back because the rockfish-catching season had not quite opened. Last year, we were in season and able to keep the big rockfish we caught.

Whatever the name of the fish we end up chasing today, I know they will be smart fish. I don'tknow if fish are smarter than people, but people sure spend a lot of time gathering "intelligence" on what the fish have been up to.

Before a line goes in the water, notes on recent fish behavior have been gathered by the captains of the charter boats. A charter-boat captain knows more about fish habits than a detective knows about a straying spouse. He knows where the fish were last seen. He knows who they were seen chasing. What water temperature they prefer. And, more than likely, he knows what they had for their last meal.

The captain also engages in electronic surveillance to probe the bottom of the bay. The devices also sound an alarm when a school of fish comes in the area. The captain uses all this "intelligence" to select the right lure and to place the fishing lines at depths that the fish might find attractive.

While the captain is doing all this work, we "fishermen" sit in chairs. Our job is to keep our fluid levels up, our sunscreen on, and our conversation reasonably clean. If a fish should bite, we might have to stand up and attempt to reel in the lunker. But only if it is our turn. On most charter boats, the heavy reeling stints are rotated among the pool of six to 10 chair-sitters.

Fishing with your kid is considerably different. First of all, you fish from the shore, not from a boat. This avoids nasty spills. Rather than trying to catch a fish, your primary goal is to avoid getting hooked when your kid casts his line.

You don't use electronic equipment to probe the bottom. Instead, you count on the kid to drag his fishing line over the bottom, thereby finding the location of every line-snapping sunken tree limb in the water. If the kid catches a fish, you've got more problems. You have to identify the fish, extricate the hook, and rule on whether the catch is worthy of keeping. When my kid catches something, before the fish is out of the water, I say, "It looks like a bass," "Let me get the hook" and "I think we should toss him back."

Many fishing fanatics toss their catch back in the water. My contact with fishing fanatics, guys who regard any weather other than a snowstorm as a prime fishing opportunity, has been somewhat brief. I have been on occasional outings with fishing fanatics. But I rarely get invited back. Nor do I ask.

Fishing fanatics seem to share two characteristics. They own fly rods and they have very rugged rear ends. Their hard backsides come in handy when they drive to their favorite fishing spots, which always seem to be several hundred miles away from civilization.

A nephew of mine is a fishing fanatic. On the Saturday before Easter, when I was putting on sweaters and staying indoors, he drove several hours to stand in a frigid creek somewhere near the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to toss submerged lures at trout. The trout seemed to like it.

A few days later, he drove across the country, planning his stops at inviting streams. One day he drove 700 miles so he could fish in the Roaring Fork of the Colorado River.

The following day, he drove to Utah, dodging snow and sleet in the mountain passes to fly fish in the Green River. He caught about 24 fish and tossed them all back. I would have fried them.

I know I don't have the big heart or the iron bottom required to be a fishing fanatic. I know I can't weasel my way out of going fishing several times a year with my kid.

But every so often I get a hankering for a fishing experience somewhere between the wading in a freezing river and retrieving tackle that the kid has tossed in a pond. For me, it is fishing with the grown-ups. Once a year is enough.

Pub Date: 4/27/96

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