Fishing trip results in real catch of memories

December 27, 2003|By ROB KASPER

AS MY SONS and I rolled out of Baltimore at 4 o'clock one morning this week, a voice from the backseat grunted: "This reminds me of swim meets."

"Yeah," another voice replied, "but even swim meets weren't this early."

So began a day of winter fishing, a reunion of sorts for some kids home from college for the holidays and a couple of dads.

Driving through the pre-dawn darkness, I replayed in my mind how I got involved in this trip. Basically, I got hornswoggled by Bowen P. Weisheit Jr., an attorney and family friend. Bo is an avid fisherman and last year invited me to accompany him on his annual late-December rockfishing expedition in the Delaware Bay. I love rockfish, but was chary of winter fishing. Too cold, too bumpy, I thought, and begged off last year saying, "Keep me in mind if your ever go again."

A week or so ago, Bo called my bluff. He reissued the invitation, and I signed on. I recruited my two sons, who were home from college for the holidays and who had been friends since boyhood with Bo's sons, Ben and James. Rounding out the expedition were two more college-age men, James Kelso and Geordie Stick, who once roamed the alleys of Bolton Hill with our sons.

Years ago, most of these guys were members of our middle-school car pool. Years ago, all used to fit in one car. But for this outing, it took two vehicles to transport these big bodies, even though the senior member of the car pool, Ben Weisheit, was felled by flu and couldn't make the trip.

I thought that taking a fishing trip with my boys would be an opportunity for male bonding. As most parents of college-age kids have discovered, even though your offspring come home for the holidays, they tend to be most active in the middle of the night when you are asleep. I figured a fishing trip that left Baltimore at 4 o'clock in the morning would fit into their night-owl habits.

As it turned out, there was some father-son interaction. But mostly there was silence.

It was about 120 miles to Lewes, Del., where we going to shove off on The Grizzley, a 37-foot charter boat. As happens on long car trips, particularly those in the dark of night, the occasional conversation focused on the past. I heard, for example, tales of what really happened in high school. These are stories every parent should probably hear, but not until the kids have gone away to college.

Along the way, our two-vehicle caravan stopped at an all-night mini-market and gas station that was busy at this odd hour, with men, hunters, I guessed, who wore camouflage and bought sausage sandwiches. Our passengers piled out of the cars, bought junk food and briefly caught each other up on what had been going on in their lives. Then got back in the cars and slept. "Dead dogs in there," Bo said at one stop as he surveyed our slumbering cargo.

We pulled into Fisherman's Wharf in Lewes at a little before 7 in morning. Our captain, Carey Evans, and his mate, Aaron Strausbaugh, had the boat ready to go. We put on layers of clothing, hats and gloves and shoved off.

The water was silvery and smooth as we headed out to a spot where the Delaware Bay met the Atlantic Ocean. Our destination, I was told, were some "hills" or undulations in the bottom where, down in the deep, the rockfish dwelled.

When we arrived at our fishing spot, known as The Eight Buoys, the seas got choppy, and the tide was swift. A few boats were already there; in an hour or so about a half-dozen boats were around us.

It was going to be "fast fishing," Captain Evans told us. The captain maneuvered the boat into position, and as soon as he cut the engine, we dropped our lines, baited with wiggling eels, down to the bottom in 35 to 65 feet of water and let them drift with the current. The theory was that as the eels dropped over the edge of the hill, the rock lurking in the eddies would strike.

It worked. On my first drop, I had a big striper on the line. A few minutes later, I had caught another. Rockfish, or striped bass, are magnificent fish, strong and fast and delicious.

Fishing is also a great leveler. Landlubber status doesn't matter much at sea. You are not fathers, sons, professionals or college boys, you are simply guys trying to catch fish and not get washed overboard. While the experienced fishermen in our group, the Weisheits, landed some big fish, so did most of the rest of us rookies.

I was tempted to crow about my sudden success, landing two fish in the first 30 minutes. But as the morning wore on, the seas got rougher, and my stomach got weaker. Instead of crowing, I retreated to the cabin, closed my eyes and tried to feel better.

Shortly after midday, we were back on land, snapping photos of our catch of 10 big rockfish. With a few strokes from a dockside fish cleaner, the fish became fillets. We tossed them in ice chests, piled into our vehicles and headed back to Baltimore.

Again I thought the ride home might offer a chance for conversation. But instead of meaningful talk, mostly what I heard was loud snoring.

Back home, we went our separate ways. The car engine was still warm when my younger son grabbed the keys and headed to Towson to go shopping with his girlfriend. My older son, who started me off in this parent business on a Christmas Eve 23 years ago, sat at the kitchen table, reading the newspaper. I went upstairs to take a long nap.

Before drifting off to dreamland, I reviewed the day. Like many parental journeys, it had been uneven. I had lost some sleep and tossed my breakfast. But I had also caught some fine fish, snagged a few strong memories, and had slowed the march of time, if just for a day.

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