Volume XVII, Issue 17 # April 23 - April 29, 2009

Half a century ago, Bay fishing was pretty much for fun and relaxation. Much of it was done via rowboats and skiffs with outboard motors.

My All-Star Chesapeake Angling Team

Plus how fishing has changed over the years

Seeing that I’ve covered fishing hereabouts for 53 years for newspapers, radio, TV and magazines, I’m often asked for my nominees to a sort of All-Star Chesapeake Angling Team. So far, mixing apples and oranges has been my excuse.

Like baseball, football, hockey and basketball, fishing is a sport of statistics. But catches don’t tell the whole story. Over the years the composition of bats, balls, gear and rules have changed a bit but overall, both game and book are pretty much the same. Not so with fishing.

Then …

In 1956, when I made my first trip on the Chesapeake with the late Tom Dunn of Annapolis, fishing was highly restrictive — not only by laws but also by technology in boats, electronics, artificial baits, rods and reels. A typical Bay rockfishing trip meant trolling, and seldom did a boat work more than six rigs; four or five were normal. Finicky wire lines were needed to get down to the deeper holes. Radio communications between boats to let anglers know where the fish were biting were not dependable. The airwaves were filled with skippers asking for radio checks.

Bay fishing was pretty much for fun and relaxation. Much of it was done via rowboats and skiffs with outboard motors. A boat that could cruise to the fishing grounds at better than 10 knots was called a fishing machine. The minimum size for rockfish was 12 inches (and it was lowered to 11 inches for a couple of years). All stripers that weighed more than 15 pounds had to go back. There were no tournaments with cash payoffs more than would finance filling the boat’s tank at 30-some cents a gallon premium marine fuel. The annual Chesapeake Bay Fishing Fair, the biggest competition on the Bay, paid off in tackle and merchandise.

No fishing boat could legally use the primitive electronic flasher-type depth finders then available to locate fish for fear their efficiency would deplete stocks. Such devices were restricted to navigational purposes. Of course many cheated, and whether they did or not, they caught some fish.

… And Now

For a Hall of Fame, how can we reasonably compare those who fished that era with those currently fishing our spring trophy season?

Today’s well-equipped boat fishing the Bay today has legal electronics that can read a single big fish near the boat.

Planer boards worked along the sides of boats can handle 20 or more trolling lines, in addition to another dozen flat lines. Big and cumbersome are umbrella rigs, but they do catch more fish — and that concept wasn’t even thought of in the old days.

Wood has given way to sleek, fast fiberglass boats capable of more than two or three times the speeds of the old tubs, so they now can easily fish several areas in a day without losing much trolling time. Reels have higher speed ratios, while the latest rods are designed to wear a fish out quicker. One wonders how a fish has a chance.

Heroes of Their Time

That said, I’m giving in. Here’s my mix of apples and oranges.

When I arrived in the mid-’50s, among the best known and most booked was Capt. Charlie Ford, who specialized in the upper Bay and chumming. The use of clams or anything else for chumming was new and controversial (fears of tearing up clam beds), but Charlie mastered it. Catches of a hundred pan stripers a day were no longer the exception. By the ’70s, if a party didn’t take a couple hundred rockfish in a day of chumming, they looked for another boat the next time out.

In the mid-Bay were Capts. John and Harry Manifold, noted for black drum and rockfish. Capt. Jim Shupe held the state hardhead crown for many years and worked with Tony Accetta in developing Tony spoons for the Chesapeake. Capts. Harry and Frank Carter were big names, and Harry was known for the meals he served on Breezin Thru, which today fishes with Capt. Tilghman Hemsley at the wheel: same big meals and lots of fresh fish.

Capt. Bob Joy fished the El-Joy out of the Magothy and couldn’t be beat at Belvedere Shoals and Snake Reef chumming or trolling. Who can top Capt. Ed Darwin and his Becky-D anywhere near the Bay Bridge these days? Among some other hot fishermen these days are Capt. George Prenant out of Deale, Capt. Dale Kirkendall and his Wild Goose, and Ed O’Brien of the Semper Fidelis. And let’s not forget Capt. Roy Leverone, who ran the Uncle Roy for so many years out of Chesapeake Beach before retiring last year.

Out of Chesapeake Beach, among the hot skippers were Wesley Stinnett, Jerome King, Nathan Parks and Gene Hunt, who could catch fish in an empty bathtub. Probably the best bay chummer of all time, Capt. Dick Houghland, fished out of Chesapeake Beach.

At Solomons there was Capt. Harry Woodburn, followed by such luminaries as his son-in-law Jack Johnson and Robbie Robinson. In the lower Bay there was Capt. Andy Scheible of Scheible’s Fishing Center, Wynne, on the lower Potomac, who put cobia fishing on the map and was an ace at stripers. Lewis and John Bean were also hot shots in that area.

Across the Bay in the Crisfield area were Alex Kellam and Charleton Marshall, who still trolled shallow waters for rockfish with hand lines. How about Capt. Dewey Landon of Crisfield, who claimed he could call black drum to the boat. Or Capt. Bill Thomas, who replaced the arm he lost in World War II with a hook and caught fish consistently.

Capt. Buddy Harrison and brother Ronnie were just setting up shop at Tilghman Island, where in recent years Capts. Bud Harrison, Johnny Motovidlak and Mike Lipsky have become legends.

Hey, this is only the start of the list. How can I pick the best, when in my book they’re all peaches? Enough said.