Burton on the Bay

Vol. 8, No. 14
April 6-12, 2000
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Spring Water Warning

In fair weather, prepare for foul.

	    —Gnomologia: Adagies & Proverbs: T. Fuller, 1732

Okay, so I had to look it all up — both the G-word and the author — but as fishing for rockfish in the open Bay is only about three weeks off, I thought those words appropriate, appropriate enough that their origin piqued my curiosity. The hunt took me first to the Everyman Edition of the Dictionary of Quotations and Proverbs where I struck not gold but polished brass at best.

Tracking Thomas

There it was, Gnomologia, and credited to T. Fuller, not even a first name. So, I switched to the 16th edition of the crown jewel of info concerning the origin of quotes, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. Alas, it didn’t have the quote, though it listed two Thomas Fullers.

So by considering the dates, it obviously was the one who lived in the weather between 1654 and 1734, seeing as the other one was under the sod where weather doesn’t matter 71 years when the words were first recorded. But our Thomas Fuller was referred to only in footnotes; thus no additional info on him.

However, one of the footnotes attributed something else to him: “He that plants a tree loves others beside himself.” Now that’s my kind of guy, which only intensified the desire to ferret out more about Thomas Fuller, 1654-1734.

Alas, though I have several hundred reference books and encyclopedias on quotes, people and history in my home office, nothing more could be found, which promoted a call to my computer/Internet guru and former Evening Sun colleague Alan Doelp of Landsdowne, who flipped on the little screen with all the keys. Alas, also, he found T. or Thomas Fuller. Gnomologia was listed frequently, but no info whatsoever about the author.

In some of his scrolling under weather, Alan did come across another very appropriate reference to the weather, though no source of the origin of a striking sea song that includes:

“I never, never ever gave a damn about the weather, and the weather never, never ever gave a damn about me.” Might I comment that especially those who fish the Chesapeake during trophy rock season, which begins April 25, or fish the late October and November wind-up of the regular season — and hold to this view — are foolhardy indeed, which we’ll get into in a moment. But, first:

I’m curious about Thomas Fuller, 1654-1734, presumably of the U.S. or England, and would appreciate any info, some literary or ingenious reader might pass on. Also, that word Gnomologia is intriguing and not to be found in the average dictionary.

I had to go to one of the thickest of all books, some 2,288 pages plus introductory stuff, maps and such in Webster’s New Encyclopedic Dictionary, where Gnomologia wasn’t listed but Gnomology was: Gnomology, n. Gr. a speaking in maxims, a collection of maxims, a recollection of maxims, precepts or reflections.

I felt better when I got to the end of the entry. [Rare] was how it wound up. So seeing it is rarely used, I need make no excuses — and all I have to do now is figure out how to correctly pronounce it. Give it a try yourself.

Prepare for Foul

Forget, for the moment, about Thomas Fuller and Gnomologia, but remember those six sage words: In fair weather, prepare for foul. Add a seventh: Hypothermia, which was never heard of 50 years ago, never mind in the days of Tom Fuller.

I have mulled this over for ages. In the fishing courses I teach, one question is almost always asked: “How big a boat do I need to fish for those big rockfish of the trophy season?” There is no appropriate answer.

That’s putting the cart before the horse. Weather is the prime factor. The boat plays a significant role, of course, but it can be depended on that the angler asking the question does his fishing from something small, perhaps a 16- to 18-foot open boat, maybe a bassboat. Otherwise, he probably wouldn’t be asking.

The chase for trophy rockfish involves four aspects of concern to small boaters:

1. It comes at the time of year when Bay water temperatures are in the 50s, which might not seem cold — until you’re swamped or otherwise end up in the brine. Enter that nasty word hypothermia.

2. Late April and early May are also known for changing and unreliable weather, especially involving winds.

3. To be most effective, the hunt for big stripers requires fishermen to fish edges of the shipping channels, which is no short hop for ultra-small boats. That’s open water, but seeing as regulations permit angling in the Bay proper only south of the mouth of the Patapsco, there’s little protection from stiff breezes.

4. The opening of the season comes early, not infrequently before many skippers are properly prepared, their boats fitted and checked out. Things that should have been done, were put off. You know the old comment: “I’ll get to that when I get a chance.”

So the answer to the question is akin to the oft-repeated response to J.P. Morgan — or was it Cornelius Vanderbilt or Harold Vanderbilt? — who, when the topic of the price of a boat was brought up by one interested in a purchase, said “If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it.”

This applies, of course, to the question of how big a boat does one need for the chase of trophy rockfish. If one must ask, there is some doubt — and if there is any doubt, stay at the docks. Consider this old Japanese proverb:

Too many boatmen will run the boat up to the top of the mountain.

When reports of catching are good, the fish are big, too many fishermen of the macho sort are tempted to run the boat to the top of the mountain — a mountain of tumultuous Bay waters.

Delaware Bay can be more hostile than our Chesapeake, yet amidst the whitecaps on those broad waters I have seen men in boats as small as 15 feet in the chase of big sea trout. Big fish draw men in small boats seeking big action. From news reports, it’s obvious not all get back.

Close to shore, especially when one is in the lee, winds and their effect on the brine are not obvious. Weather can change, winds can pick up. A motor can konk out — who knows what might come up?

So as you prepare for the season — or on the morning of the trip, keep in mind: In fair weather, prepare for foul.

Complete your preparations before even considering fishing, for it’s not always like Shakespeare wrote in “The Phoenix and the Turtle”:

The sea being smooth,
How many shallow bauble boats dare sail
Upon her patient breast?
Enough said …

Dept. of Corrections

Burton checked out the fine print regarding closings of catch-and-release rockfishing in springtime, and found it excludes the Choptank, Nanticoke, Patuxent, Wicomico, Blackwater, Pocomoke, Transquaking, Chester, Manokin and the upper Bay — with two exceptions. On the Susquehanna Flats where, a special catch-and-release season is now underway, and the Potomac River, which comes under the Potomac River Fisheries Commission. However, one of the best bets of all, the Patapsco, is not closed. Burton apologizes for the goof.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly