CHESAPEAKE BEACH - There's nothing like witnessing a good deed or two to restore one's faith in regular folks.
On Tuesday morning, about 100 people gathered on the dock at the Rod and Reel marina to do a little fishing and help fill the freezers at the Southern Maryland Food Bank.
The "Fishing to Feed the Needy" program began 13 years ago, when members of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association and the Rod & Reel Charter Captains Association decided to combine their talents for charity.
The captains donated their boats for the day, and the MSSA provided the mates and fish cleaners. Some folks at the state Department of Natural Resources agreed to be the logistics staff and the event took off.
"The needy love to get fresh fish, and they don't get it that often, so this is a real treat," says DNR's Joann Wheeler.
It's not a stretch to say that "Fishing for the Needy" was a genuine senior moment. The anglers signed up to participate at the Offices on Aging in Calvert, Charles and Prince George's counties.
Wearing big straw hats and baseball caps proclaiming the advantages of retirement, this year's senior anglers - 80 strong - boarded seven charter boats for a day of fun with a purpose.
Upton Thomas, program manager in Calvert County, said he has a waiting list each year of seniors eager for a free day on the water.
"People start calling me six months ahead to get on the sign-up list. Nobody wants to be left behind," he says. "There's never a slot we can't fill."
Some, such as Mazie Washington and Daniel Brown, haven't missed a single trip.
"It's a good thing - for us and the needy," says Brown, born in 1916 in Calvert County.
The captains like it, too.
"It's a whole bunch of people from all walks of life and different places coming together to do something good," said Phil Talbott, owner of the "Dram Buoy." "That makes it kind of neat."
It's no small task to move anglers and volunteers onto eight boats (Talbott's served as a platform for photographers) from the marina, across Chesapeake Bay to the mouth of the Choptank River, but DNR's Wheeler and her magic clipboard managed the seemingly unmanageable.
"It's easier than it looks," she said, smiling.
I didn't believe her for a second.
Bill Huppert, president of MSSA's Perry Hall chapter, says practice makes perfect.
"We used to meet every year beforehand to go over assignments and the battle plan, but now we could do it in our sleep. It's hard to ruin fishing," he said, eyes twinkling.
Not everyone was ready for the senior circuit, though. Aaron Plumley, 15, of Baltimore County, has been coming for five years to help his dad, Woody, bait hooks and clean fish despite the fact that "oh-dark-30" comes pretty early when you're on summer break.
Capt. Glenn James aboard "Showtime" made sure no one was left behind, and with engines growling, the armada headed straight across the bay. It was a beautiful morning to do a good deed.
Unfortunately, the fish weren't being charitable. "The Diamonds" weren't sparkling for bottom fishing, and the water around Sharpes Island was pretty dull for trolling, making it hard to better last year's mark of 1,500 fish in under three hours.
Back at the dock, where the breezy morning turned into a scorcher of an afternoon, volunteers filleted and bagged 450 fish, from blues and stripers to spot and white perch.
Around midafternoon, the Southern Maryland Food Bank truck came to haul the donations to Prince Frederick for distribution.
Thanks goes to Captains James, Talbott, Roy Leverone, Randy Dean, Chris Coleman, Drew Payne, Charlie Sisson and Paul Sullivan.
Also, a tip of the sweat-stained cap to the men with the sharp knives: Huppert, the Plumleys, Bob Hall, Bill Davis, Derek and Don McKracken and Joe Zinner.
`Derby' honors Joe Judge
Ten youngsters got to wet some lines for free during the Joe Judge Fishing Derby on Aug. 10.
Judge was an Eastern Shore sportsman who loved nothing better than to get a kid hooked on fishing. When he died of cancer, his wife decided to establish a fishing derby for children who had lost a family member.
Donna Judge turned to the Coastal Conservation Association and Deale charter Capt. Jim Brincefield for help, and last year's inaugural outing was a huge success.
This year, all of the youngsters were selected from Camp New Dawn, operated by Eastern Shore Hospice. For Thomas Sly, 14, of Baltimore, it was the first time being on a boat. You didn't have to ask him if he was having fun. The answer was in his huge grin, which got bigger with each tug on the line.
"You've just got to love the smiles," Brincefield shouted over the boat's engines.
In just three hours, the young anglers aboard the "Jil Carrie" caught 25 spot and 20 stripers - three of them keepers - as they bottom fished near Rock Hall and went chumming near Love Point.
Capt. Mark Galasso put the kids on the fish, and first mate Bob Reed kept fresh bait and advice ready. Eight CCA members acted as cheerleaders and assistant anglers, helping with the details.