Tangling with rock, politics


May 09, 1999|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

As the Buddy Plan slowed off the Calvert Cliffs power plant after a 40-minute run southwest from Tilghman, the talk aboard Capt. Buddy Harrison's charter boat could have been about any number of weighty topics -- medicine, law, war or politics, for example.

Instead, the chatter was about rockfish rigs, which Harrison was arranging in tight order across the transom and along the aft quarters of the 50-foot Buddy Plan.

Bucktails and plastic shad, parachutes and umbrellas. Monofilament line and wire line. Bell sinkers and in-line weights.

In all, 11 rods were set, with each rig carefully weighted and set to troll at different depths and distances beyond the transom, forming a webless net of lures covering the water column from 35 feet down to within six or eight feet of the surface and trailing up to 300 feet astern.

"Ten minutes or so; that's how long it would be on my boat before every one of those lines would be tangled," said Dr. Stan Minkin, chief of surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, as Harrison finished setting the last line. "Eleven lines. I don't know how he does it."

"It's like I say; it ain't easy being me," said Harrison, as he went forward to set the throttles and the weighted lines set up evenly spaced in the Buddy Plan's wake.

On Tuesday, the Buddy Plan was one of a dozen boats that left Harrison's Fishing Center at Dogwood Harbor on Tilghman Island for the annual invitation pro-am tournament.

Most of the boats made the run to the waters off the nuclear power plant on the Western Shore, where charters have been catching big rockfish since the early spring season opened April 23.

"It's been good down this way so far, but you never really know with these spring fish," said Harrison, as the Buddy Plan made a slow sweep from the deeper edges of the shipping channel toward the 35-foot bottom contour.

"They move through here every year, but every year is different because the spawn runs on its own schedule.

"This year, I think the best fishing is still to come because the weather has been cool and most of those spawning fish are still up in the rivers."

The fishing was slow Tuesday morning as the sun burned away thin cloud cover and a light breeze dropped away to a zephyr, and Nathan Landow moved idly from the cabin to the transom and playfully reached out and shook a rod.

The reel clicked once, twice, three times as it grudgingly gave out line and then the rod bowed and the clicker screamed as a striper ran with the lure.

"I had no idea there was a fish there; I was fooling around," Landow, a builder from Bethesda and former chairman of the state Democratic Party, said as he hefted the rod and began to reel the fish in. "First fish of the day, and it feels like it could be a big one. What have I got here, Buddy, short line or long line?"

Intermediate, and the rockfish was soon aboard, measuring 36 inches and weighing about 20 pounds.

Afterward, as Harrison made another sweep from deep water inshore, Landow stood along the rail, answering the inevitable question: What about Bill and Monica and the special prosecutor?

"It became an international embarrassment," he said. "People in other countries can't understand the expense and extent of the investigation, because in most countries that situation wouldn't be considered a big deal. We've become a big joke, really."

An hour or so later, the conversation had turned to Kosovo, and Minkin put aside the mop with which he had been cleaning the cockpit and sat atop a cooler.

"I don't understand it, really. You would think we had learned our lesson 30 years ago in Southeast Asia," said Minkin, who spent a year in the 1960s with a special operations medical and intelligence team in Vietnam.

"Bombing won't change the social structure, and ground troops probably could win the battles but lose the war in the long run.

"Can NATO change overnight what has developed over thousands of years? You have to doubt it."

Another fish interrupted the conversation, as the anglers aboard scurried to adjust rod placements and make room for Dr. Sam Lumpkin, who was working another big rockfish toward the boat, bringing in a 35-incher.

"I've been fishing out of Harrison's since I was 7 years old," said Lumpkin, an ear, nose and throat specialist at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center. "We used to ride the ferry over from Annapolis. That was 60 years ago, and time and the Bay Bridge have ruined the Eastern Shore, but back then it was unusual to catch rockfish like these.

"You caught a lot more, but they were a lot smaller, too."

Through the late morning and early afternoon, strikes were sporadic until Landow's son, Mike, hooked up with what appeared to be the big fish of the day, perhaps large enough to challenge for the largest catch in the tournament.

But as Mike Landow brought the big striper in through the lines, it wrapped twice around the wire line from another rod and broke off just as Harrison was about to net it.

"Sometimes," said Harrison, "it really ain't easy being me."

Pub Date: 5/09/99

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