Burton on the Bay:
Flummoxed Fisherman Floats Again
In the Bill Burton-NBT Tourney
by Bill Lambrecht
Well, it happened again. The editor of this newspaper informed me that Bill Burton is out of town and that I, the Flummoxed Fisherman, must fill this space on the eve of the New Bay Times-Bill Burton Fishing Frenzy on the Eastern Shore on Sunday, Sept. 26.
A Big Trip it will be for the dozens of New Bay Times readers who have signed up and those with the sense to get to a phone immediately to get on board by calling us at 410/867-0304 (5pm Friday is the drop-dead hour).
Burton will be there, of course, holding court at homey Harrison's Chesapeake House on Tilghman Island.
There are prizes including the one I've got my eye on: the "Getting Skunked Award." Yes, I, the Flummoxed Fisherman, will be there, but I've been told to keep a low profile so that my bad luck doesn't rub off.
In my occasional "Adventures with Capt. Rick" in this space, readers have seen, as recently as two weeks ago, what can go wrong on fishing trips: strange occurrences that go beyond "getting skunked" and into the realm of weirdness, farce and even voodoo.
Of course, nothing terrible will happen at the Bill Burton-New Bay Times outing on Sunday because Capt. Buddy Harrison has put together a cast of wily veterans to captain our fishing fleet. We will catch fish. And if we fall into the Chesapeake Bay, these captains know to aim for our fatty parts when they gaffe us back into the boat with hydraulic meathooks.
But before you leave on your safe and successful journey, you need to understand some things. Fishing is more than waving a stick at the water. Fishing is testing your wits against glistening, cold-blooded creatures that have been on this earth longer than humans.
Fishing is opening ourselves to the rollicking Chesapeake Bay. Fishing is flushing out the nonsense, like jobs and debts, from your brain. Fishing is like scrubbing your soul with Murphy's oil soap.
There's nothing as glorious as a fishing trip except, of course, when you're the Flummoxed Fisherman. Which is why, I guess, I have been asked to tell you of some of my ill-fated trips.
"Bear-ly" Surviving. Towed in. Fishless. Half-sunk. Rods flying out of the boat like Scud missiles. Bucktails hooked through my palm and yanked out with pliers by pitiless doctors. A canoe capsized by 10,000 giant bluefish in a feeding frenzy. All of this has happened to me on the Chesapeake Bay.
But it has happened to me elsewhere, too, from Mexico to Alaska and points in between. In Cozumel, there were the charterboat bandits who turned menacing before dumping us with nothing more than a couple of skinny barracuda. Fishing out of Key West on my birthday once, I discovered that my Panamanian captain was a drug-runner with no rods and only "Cuban" reels: crude devices better suited for flying kites.
But my most far-flung misadventures took place in Alaska, where even the most hapless angler can't avoid success. Today I will tell just one. Or maybe two.
Alaskan Salmon Derby
Using a map scratched on a bar napkin from a saloon in Juneau, I hiked up a mountain in search of a sockeye salmon stream. For a change I went the right way, and the scene I came upon in a ravine still occupies prime real estate in my mind. Thousands of the knob-headed, red-and-green sockeyes swam so close to one another that ducks could have ridden on their backs. I thought that my heart would thump out of its case as I excitedly rigged up my spinning rod with a lure that looked like a hula girl.
Unfortunately, I sliced open my waders and never could get close enough to that mountain stream to do any good.
What would be my final opportunity on this trip to catch a salmon came about at a saloon (where else?), where I met a young artist who told me about the South Alaska Salmon Derby. He could use a mate, he said, but I ought to know that his boat wasn't very big. He wasn't kidding, I found out in the morning when we headed out into vast, icy waters in his 12-foot runabout.
In Lynn Straits, we motored alongside yachts and vessels with elaborate downriggers that had turned out for the $25,000 in prize money put up by a bank. They were bigger but we were going to win, my young captain said, because we were smarter.
Smarter apparently meant heading farther from shore than boats far better equipped to handle the waves. My fears were driven off when I saw them 40 feet behind the boat: two black-and-white Orcas. Just then, my reel started to scream: Apparently I'd snagged a 20-foot-long killer whale.
After nearly falling out of the boat, I felt the line go slack. Either the whale had come unhooked, which I prayed for, or he was under the boat right now preparing to rise up from the depths for a climactic end to his annoyance.
It was neither. It turned out that I had hooked a 2512 pound salmon, which somehow we flopped into our tiny boat. All I could think about were salmon steaks and a fish-eating bash that I would hold, like a conquering explorer, once we got home.
That didn't happen.
My captain said that such a fine fish needed to be entered into the contest. Once entrants handed over their fish to the bank, they'd never see it again. But with $25,000 at stake, that was a risk worth taking. That night, the captain and his girlfriend came to my hotel after stopping by at contest headquarters. They had some good news and some bad news. They congratulated me on catching the second biggest fish in the South Alaska Salmon Derby.
The bad news was that it was winner-take-all, and that a fancy boat had turned in a 2534 pound fish.
Gearing Up for Sunday
I have just taken time out to blaze out in my boat to Tilghman Island, to test the waters where our tournament this weekend will be held. I trolled bucktails, surgical hoses, sassy shad and umbrella rigs until finally, I hooked something.
It fought so hard I thought it was a ray. When I got it up to the back of the boat, I saw that it was a rockfish, fat as a salmon and glistening in the sunset. Then, and this is true, it smiled at me like a barracuda, shook its fat head, and spit out my shiny green lure. Away it swam, unhurriedly.
But I was not upset, you see, because I have experience in these matters. What I did was mark the spot on my GPS where last I saw this lunker. I will return there on Sunday, at the Bill Burton-New Bay Times fishing tournament. For I know my luck is about to change.
| Issue 38 |
Volume VII Number 38
September 23-29, 1999
New Bay Times
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