Burton on the Bay:
Seeking Snollygasters at Solomons

You gotta come back. You've been writing about all those other places, and I want to show you what the fishing is really like.

       -The late Capt. Harry Woodburn, Sept. 1957


I'll not forget that promise. Heading home after an outdoor writers meeting at the old Department of Research & Education facility on Solomons Island, I had stopped at Capt. Harry's place of business, Woodburn's Fishing Center on the main drag of a then-sleepy, small fishing town not much more than a year after taking over the outdoor editorship of the then-Baltimore Sunpapers.

The Evening Sun, which was my primary outlet, is long gone. So is Capt. Harry. His center is now Bunky's Charterboats. But Solomons is still there, and the fishing in recent years has been even better. Not that it was bad back then. Only trouble then was, as the veteran skipper griped, no one knew about Solomons.

But come June 25 through 27, a lot of people will be reminded of Solomons, down where the Patuxent meets Chesapeake Bay. Not that they need a reminder; Solomons can pretty much take care of itself thanks to its diversity of fish.

So what's so special about June 25 through 27?

That's when the Solomons Charter Captains Association goes Baywide with its Chesapeake Bay Pro/Am Fishing Tournament. In this big fish-off, all you gotta do is break the current Fishing In Maryland mark of 67 12 pounds and you'll be carting your tackle around in a brand spanking new $30,000 pickup truck direct from Ralph's Dodge in Prince Frederick.


Big Fish Aren't Particular

That record was set a long way up the Chesapeake from here, off Bloody Point on the Eastern Shore, but big fish roam on both sides of the Chesapeake. Over the years, it's about even for both sides for record book entries. Big fish seem to have no preference. Western Shore, Eastern Shore, what's the difference? They go where they can find meals of menhaden, which also have no preference.

The existing record was set May 13, 1995, when young Devin Nolen of Hampstead hooked the biggie while trolling a Nick's Stix soft plastic eel - Parachute combination from a small private boat. It proves one not be a veteran angler or have a big boat or a charter boat to catch the snollygasters of the Chesapeake.

As former president Herbert Hoover wrote in his book on fly fishing, it matters not who is holding the rod: "All men are equal before fish." Plainly put, it's a matter of being at the right place at the right time with something that appeals to the hunger of a big fish.


Big Bucks Make Good Bait

The rockfish of the Chesapeake - also the blues and sea trout - will have a wide assortment of baits to choose from on that big weekend at Solomons because there will be many hundreds of fishermen wetting lines in the last big-money tournament of the century.

The bottom line: $92,800 is up for grabs if one includes the $30,000 pickup. The heaviest rockfish in three days is worth $5,000, which translates into an awful lot of rods, reels and lures; perhaps even a down payment on a boat. We'll go into the details of the tournament in a moment, but first Solomons as I've seen it over the years.


Boxing Glove Days

We didn't do much that first day aboard Capt. Harry's charterboat. It was in late September, and the winds were howling at Punch Island enough that the bell in the cabin kept on clanging to remind us that a fellow had to need a fish badly to be out on the Chesapeake on such a day.

We were trolling Boxing Glove bucktails, the favorite of the skipper as I recall. When we first met, he gave me a few, told me they'd improve my catching. That bait has been among my very favorites since. It's upturned boxing glove configuration seems to make it want to run deep, and gives action to whatever is added in pork rind or soft plastic.

Back then it was strictly pork rind. That was in the days of only the freshwater plastic worm. It would be many years before soft plastic Sassy Shads, Mister Twisters, Grubs, Split Tails and the like were on the market. Capt. Harry's Boxing Gloves were white with a red tip up front, green skirt and white buck deer hairs. They were considered big at the time, though now some lures come twice as large.

Among the skippers carrying parties in the old days were Rodie Langley aboard his Annie B; Leon Langley, who was at the helm of the Miss Solomons; and Junior Langley of the Elizabeth. Soon to come was Jack Johnson, who married Capt. Harry's daughter Doris and who took over the Aldor. Then Capt. Robbie Robinson, whom I've fished with often on his Miss Regina.

Breakfast often started the day at the old Fishermen's Inn, which, like much of the past, is now gone from the contemporary yuppie Solomons scene. Not infrequently when I fished with Jack Johnson, we'd work the waters at Cedar Point Light, which is also gone. Seems only the fish remain thereabouts.


Fun for All at the Pro/Am

As for that big three-day tournament, the top rockfish each day is worth $1,000; runners-up win $500, $450 and $350. With bluefish and sea trout, it's $500 for top fish; then $250, $100 and $50. Flyrodders get into the act with rockfish prizes the same as for blues and trout. Even kids have a share of this fish-off. The youngster under 12 who takes the top fish wins $250.

In addition, the overall winner will probably want a memento as a reminder of the big day and the big fish, so a taxidermy mount is promised. Also a charter trip later on.

This is one of those contests with a tournament within a tournament in which fishermen wager on their skill and good fortunes, which adds another $26,250 to the pot if the fleet reaches 200 boats. First place in that is worth $10,000; second, $7,875; third, $5,250, and fourth, $2,625.

Seeing this is a Baywide tournament, boats will be fishing out of Breezy Point Marina, Calvert Marina, Harrison's Chesapeake House, Kentmorr Harbor Marina, Lippincott Marina, Point Lookout, Solomons Public Ramp, Rod 'n' Reel Docks, Sandy Point State Park and Taylors Island Family Campground. There will be five weigh-in stations from Sandy Point to Point Lookout. For further info, call the association: 410/326-2670.

Association president John Mater says that "through this tournament and other events, it is the goal of the Solomons Charter Captains Association to promote sportfishing and at the same time raise enough capital to make an impact on improving important environmental problems. We've seen Mother Nature's resilience - and with a little help we can all win again."

| Issue 23 |

Volume VII Number 23
June 10-16, 1999
New Bay Times

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