Time again for `Legends' to hook up

April 16, 2006|By CANDUS THOMSON

Aboard The Jil Carrie-- --In baseball and fishing, opening day is an acquired taste.

While there are those who cite crowds and rank amateurs as reasons to stay away, there are thousands more who gladly put up with the little annoyances to kick off the season in style.

In cities, they fill ballparks. On the Chesapeake Bay, they fill the boats that fill the water from Susquehanna Flats south to the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant in Calvert County and beyond.

At 5 a.m. yesterday, I joined a group of men who, in good-natured fun, are called "The Legends."

Avid anglers with years of experience through their rod guides, they get together each opening day to share stories and fried chicken and, if they're lucky, catch some stripers. There's Capt. Al Smith, Ed Mechlinski and Dennis "Ed" Greenway - born within days of each other 77 years ago - Jim Boland, a mere 63, and one of his sons, this year his namesake, 36-year-old Jim.

Since 1992, they've been fishing opening day with Capt. Jim Brincefield, the master of the Jil Carrie. They've shrugged off high winds and high seas, open-heart surgery and other mishaps to be together fishing on opening day.

Last year, a big slug of coffee-brown water - spring runoff - spilled over the Conowingo Dam and into the bay, making fishing tough.

But this season has its own handicap, they admit as they board the boat. To help pay back an alleged overage in last spring's catch, the state was forced to bump up the minimum size from 28 inches to 33 inches.

At 5:15, Brincefield throttles up and pulls away from the dock at Happy Harbor in Deale. "We're going right out front," he hollers, referring to the Old Gas Buoy, a well-known marker not far away.

An hour later, 16 lines go over the side and into the gently rocking water. The sky is a patchwork of grays, with a band of pale yellow and blue at the horizon. Poplar Island is off starboard and the Bay Bridge barely peaks above the water to the north.

"What's the good word today?" Greenway asks. Without waiting for a response, he smiles and says, "Fish on."

The water is fairly empty. By 7 a.m., a few boats have joined us.

"It's not too bad now," says Brincefield, looking around. "Maybe we're in the wrong spot."

But we're not. A rod bends and Greenway's good word is yelled by someone.

With a massive container ship bearing down on us, the younger Jim Boland hauls in a beautiful striper that, at 34 inches, makes the new minimum. At the wheel, Brincefield sidesteps the container ship and the small flotilla of fishing boats that suddenly want to occupy the same fertile water we do.

Suddenly, it's my turn. A striped bass a half-inch beyond legal has its lips around a small white bucktail lure at the end of my line. "This is one fish handler's disease I'll gladly suffer," I say as I crank it in and hoist it off the deck.

My opening day acquired taste will include olive oil and a little garlic before being placed gently on the grill.

Greenway throws back another fish that would have been a keeper last year, and then Jim Boland, the father, grows red-faced as he pulls in a robust, no-doubt-about-it, 37-inch fish with black racing stripes.

"The last 70 yards was tough. It didn't put on weight until the very end," he says, rubbing his biceps.

We boat two more "fish formerly known as keepers" before 9 a.m.

By 9:30 a.m. Brincefield's radar screen shows more than 200 boats within a 3-mile radius.

Mechlinski looks a little worried. Instead of getting larger, each of his throwbacks is smaller than the last. He doesn't want to go home to Stewartstown, Pa., without a representative member of Maryland's state fish.

Greenway is none too pleased with the thought of making the drive back to Prince George's County with an empty cooler.

Of the Legends, only Smith is unconcerned. As first mate this day, he's helping us, not himself.

We try all kinds of silly things to goose Lady Luck. Someone breaks out a bucket of chicken. A bag of pretzels gets passed around. We pretend like we just don't care.

Yeah, right.

One rod bends. Then another.

After four throwbacks, Mechlinski has his 36-inch keeper and a big smile.

"It's not a 50-50," someone teases.

"That's OK," the relieved Legend replies.

Greenway is struggling to crank in whatever is at the end of his line. It soon becomes evident what the problem is as the top of the lure breaks the water's surface: He has two fish, one 31 inches and the other 38 1/2 .

The smaller fish goes back in the bay. The larger one is a trophy for a Legend.

Updated advisories

The Maryland Department of the Environment has updated its fish consumption advisories, based on 2005 sampling.

The new list includes some new waterways and warnings for the South and Anacostia rivers and for Savage River Reservoir.

They're at mde.state.md.us

candy.thomson@baltsun.com

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