Gas pains have hit Chesapeake Bay anglers like a plate of bad oysters.
Anglers filling their boats this spring watch mesmerized as dials and digital readouts at gas pumps blink and spin to amounts equal to the gross national product of small nations.
A year ago, regular gas was $1.75 a gallon and diesel was $1.72, according to AAA. Now, I'm afraid to type a price on Friday for fear it will be ancient history by the time you read this.
The perky American Petroleum Institute (you'd be perky, too, if your middle name was petroleum) helpfully points out that, over the past 20 years, gas prices have risen only 67 percent compared with fruit and vegetable prices, which have risen 134 percent.
That's great news if you just converted your boat from gasoline to prune juice.
Around here, triple digits are the norm for filling a fishing boat's tank, and that doesn't factor in the vehicle hauling the boat. Then there's the charming roadblock of pumps that shut off after $50 or $75, an adequate amount a year ago, but not enough now to get you beyond sight of the dock.
One angler told me that a recent run from Pasadena's Bodkin Creek to the clear water south of Poplar Island used 70 gallons round trip.
With numbers like that, 2005 could be the first year a fisherman takes out a home improvement loan to finance his habit.
I ran into Boog Powell down at Camden Yards, and he just shook his head as he talked about the cost of running his big boat with twin 200-horsepower Yamaha motors to go fishing and take his grandkids tubing.
The former Orioles great said he bought a 21-foot skiff with a 115-horsepower motor to pull the kids and do a little crabbing. The big boat will stay tied up a lot more this year than last.
"Tuna trips are going to be fewer and farther between," Powell said of his off-shore excursions.
The rest of you seem to be changing patterns, too, or at least are thinking about it.
"The current price of gas sort of puts a crimp on running around and looking for your own fish," Cape St. Claire's John Peacock said in an e-mail. "I guess I'm going to do a lot more pre-fishing research before heading out and burning up a lot of gas looking for fish."
Of course, even if you have a darn good idea where the striped bass are, there's still the tiny matter of burning gas while trolling. Is paddling an option?
Guys like Steve Schad of Edgewater say they've downsized to save money.
"I am happy that I sold my twin gas inboard Hatteras and moved down to a trailerable 21-foot center console," said Schad, who called gas "the price of admission" to fishing.
He continued, "I can see more and more people spending the extra money on efficient power and fishing with others to help defray costs."
So-called "buddy fishing" is on the rise, said Scott Croft of BoatUS, a national recreational boating group.
But that leads to another sticky issue, noted angler John Tretick of Calvert County, owner of a 24-foot boat that gets 2.3 miles to the gallon. What is petroleum protocol?
"I'm not asking to help offset gear costs, slip, insurance, boat payment, maintenance, etc., just fuel. The question becomes what is a reasonable amount? Twenty bucks per person? Figure the mileage and split the cost?" he asked.
"If I go out with other people and they go out with me, it's a wash. If I go out with other captains and they never ride with me - for whatever reason, but I suspect it'll be mostly that I don't have the ideal fishing vessel - I'll offer funds. If they refuse, a [Bass Pro Shop] gift card by mail works."
See, this whole OPEC thing gets tricky.
Croft said anglers and boaters can do things to ease gas pains:
Save weight by off-loading the stuff you don't need, and then balance the remaining load to maintain trim.
Install a fuel flow meter.
Don't top off the water tank. At 8.3 pounds a gallon, it's a lot to haul around for a day trip.
Tune the prop and motor. A poorly tuned prop can cost a boater 10 percent in fuel economy. Ditto dirty plugs and filters and poor compression.
Avoid drag; keep the boat bottom clean.
Peacock has another suggestion: "I gas up at a gas station, so I'm not paying marina prices. I'm also figuring it's going to be cheaper to tow my boat for an hour or two than it would be to run a long distance to where I want to fish."
Instead of nibbling around the edges of the gas bill, fisherman Dennis Kaler got right to the point in his note to me, offering a form of relief that makes sense to lots of boaters (are you listening Maryland Legislative Sportsmen's Caucus?).
"How about starting a campaign to remove the `road tax' from the marina pumps?" Kaler asked. "That alone would save us 41.9 cents per gallon. I never understood how they could get away with taxing gasoline and not diesel. At least other states have a marine gasoline tax rebate program. Obviously, they recognize there is a problem. Maryland just continues to snub the recreational boater."