A lot happens when you take 70 people out for a day of fishing. Especially when you've got champion angler Bill Burton and Flummoxed Fisherman Bill Lambrecht aboard.
by NBT Staff
We'd rather be fishing!
So spoke dozens of New Bay Times readers four years ago, incited by that guru of Chesapeake fishing, Bill Burton, on their inclination to spend a Sunday afternoon - to say nothing of $200 million - in and on a new stadium for a football team still to be stolen from Cleveland.
Ever since, the Baltimore Ravens have played on the last Sunday in September without the company of several dozen New Bay Times readers who travel to Harrison's Chesapeake Inn on Tilghman Island to go fishing instead.
But in the dark early hours of Sunday, September 26, most of 1999's party of 70-plus fishermen and women would rather be sleeping.
It's not the rosy fingers of dawn but the thumping fist of the earliest of Harrison's cooks that awakens Mark Behuncik at 5:30am.
Sleeping fitfully, Behuncik's wife Betsy Kehne, NBT production manager, hears the thumps softly on a far-away door. The knock is not the expected crack of a baseball bat against the door but the thump of a wet sock.
"Whump whump whump WHUMP!"
As the whumps approach in steady rhythm, Kehne's senses sharpen. "That was the knock," she says, shaking Behuncik. "Get up."
"They have to do better than that," he grumbles, rolling over and pulling the covers over his head.
While Behuncik sleeps, the timeless Kehne heads to the car to check the clock. 4:45am. Her sleeping husband was right.
The real knock comes 45 minutes later.
Reporter Christopher Heagy's Saturday night shift at Carrol's Creek restaurant in Annapolis ends just after 11pm. He figures that his chances of hearing his Sony CD alarm at 5am are slim, so he drives straight to Tilghman.
Stuffing his 6'4" frame into the front seat of a 1987 Buick Century, he twists, shakes and contorts himself into tolerable sleep. Sleep lasts about three hours. At 4am, stiffness in his bent knees awakens him.
Wearily, Heagy stretches his legs, changes into his corduroys, brushes his teeth without water and heads into the darkness in search of a Diet Coke with one question on his mind. "Why do fishermen get up so damn early?"
The summons came earlier still for reporter Darcey Dodd. Dodd had thought that midnight was an early bedtime, but she realized she was wrong when the alarm screamed at 3:15am.
Dodd and her party head eastward from Laurel and Bowie, arriving at Harrison's at 5:45am.
The sky was dark, the air chilly and Harrison's was like a ghost town. "Where am I?" Dodd wondered. Minutes later, Harrison's and its fishermen came to life.
Flashback: The Night Before
As the big red sun set over Chesapeake Bay and the harvest moon rose over the Choptank River, a couple dozen early-arriving fishermen and women gathered for appetizers and introductions. Conversation spilled over into the dining room as guests fueled up for a long day on the Bay.
They dug into huge plates of fried food - chicken, crabcakes and soft-shell crabs - and red meat along with family-style bowls of mashed potatoes, green beans, beets and sweet, stewed tomatoes.
Digesting a heavy dinner, the possibility of intriguing conversation and a sweet revived summer night took many fishermen past their planned bedtimes and out to Harrison's patio for late-evening frolicking. A karaoke celebration led by Tilghman Island's own Deborah - blond hair bouncing and her many talents on display - was another tempting diversion.
Keeping night watch under the moon were Bill Burton, NBT general manager Alex Knoll and fellow fishermen Francis Connor and Dick Carpenter. Puffing pipes and cigars, the four sipped drinks and shared tales until a prudent 11:30pm. In years past, cocktailing and card playing had gone on well past midnight, but with ringleader Bill Burton still recovering from cataract surgery, this Saturday night was a little tamer.
Still, 5:30am came very early.
Breakfast is supposed to soften the blow, and many fishermen shovel it down. The steam table has been set for hearty appetites with pancakes, scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, fried potatoes, toast, juice and coffee. But most eat silently, seemingly staggered. A few stare into their coffee cups.
Darcey Dodd and her early-rising family dove into the breakfast spread. Two hours in the car had built up their hunger. They were not alone.
"I've been up this late before, but I don't think I've ever gotten up this early," said Heagy as he piled eggs on his plate.
As fishermen staggered in, NBT general manager Knoll hustled. Unexpected fishermen needed an extra boat, and Captain Bud Harrison, the younger of the father-son partners, worked the phone to find a willing captain. The party would be 10 boats of six to 10 fishermen.
Time, tide and Harrison's fishing fleet wait on no man. Or woman. Last year, editor Sandra Martin's boat left without her. She'd stowed her gear and gone wandering about the dock to attach name tags to members of the fishing party when an unexpected sixth jumped aboard her boat - and off the boat roared. Adopted by Bill Burton on Capt. Buddy Harrison's boat, Pleasure Merchant, she didn't regret her abandonment. She did mind the loss of her boxed lunch.
Box lunches are carried aboard, picked up by fishermen still full of breakfast. Beers, sodas and water are iced in huge coolers. But food and drink are mostly distant thoughts at this hour. The passengers are itching to start fishing.
Captain Bud is set to tear across the Bay, but Brooks Hooks is missing a passenger. Elaine Marple, from Deep Creek Lake, is off in search of box lunches.
"I got lucky and lost her," husband Marple said of his missing wife.
Elaine shows up, empty handed, but still in luck: Captain Bud has stashed a few extra box lunches aboard.
It's a vibrant morning at Harrison's as the boats pull away from the wood docks and sheltered cove into the Choptank River. The sun rises bright, shining brilliantly. The full harvest moon dims to a pale outline as the boats head out for a day on the water. It's already warm; fishermen are slipping out of fleece, comfortable in T-shirts in the freshening morning.
Early risers on the Dawn Marie don't wait until the trip home to dozie. As Captain John Motobidlak heads out, Danniell Depfer and her young son, Randy, head to the cabin to doze.
Why must fishing start so early?
Captain Bud Harrison, who's spent his whole life in the business, has the answer to Heagy's question.
"It's best to leave at 5am," he says, "but most people don't want to do that. The fishing is better in the morning. There is more activity the two hours around sunrise."
Captains fish where the fish are biting. In the course of a full day's fishing, some captains will move three or four times. In today's tournament the captains stick to Diamond Hole at the mouth of the Choptank River or the Gas Docks above Cove Point.
Rock-It deserves its name, according to passenger Tom Miller. They're fishing at the Diamonds by 7:30am, and not many minutes have passed before Nick Prince, the boat's youngest fisherman at 14, has reeled in the first rockfish. At "about 19 inches," it's a keeper.
By 7:45, 11 boats are anchored at the Diamonds. Here Dawn Marie bags its first fish - a 22-inch rock caught by six-year-old Randy Depfer with a little help from Capt. Motobidlak - just after 8am.
But fishing is slow at the Diamonds, and by 9am Dawn Marie is on the move.
Other boats go farther. By 8:30 on the open Bay the first beer, a Coors Light, has been cracked. On Brooks Hooks, that honor goes to Calvert Bregel, Bill Burton's friend and attorney.
In the fall, Capt. Bud Harrison invariably heads across the Bay to the Gas Docks on the Western Shore below the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant almost to Solomons. Built in the '70s during the oil crisis, the Gas Docks are a huge industrial filling station that once pumped gas from freighters to land and throughout Southern Maryland and beyond. "I've never been shut out there, and I get a lot of hits for a large party of people," says Harrison.
Brooks Hooks, Captain Bud Harrison's new up-scale charter boat, has been on the Bay less than six months. Forty-eight feet long with an 18-foot beam, the Bay-built boat is powered by twin 375 horsepower Caterpillar engines. For comfort, it has faux leather upholstered couches.
Brooks Hooks is the last boat to leave the dock, but carrying 12 people, it speeds smoothly across the Bay on a plane in about an hour. Chum - a mixture of ground fish to lure rocks and blues to nibble on baited line - is out and lines are in the water by 9am.
Captain Bud and mate Chris Hood take great care of their fishermen. They bait lines, unhook fish and clean the boat. All the passengers have to do is cast their lines and reel in the fish.
Dick Carpenter pulls the first fish in at about 9:15. It's a keeper, a 20-inch rockfish, but overall the fishing is slow.
The older and slower Beaudacious joins Brooks Hooks at the Gas Docks. The 52-foot Bay built anchors a little too close for comfort. Taunts from Bill Burton and the Brooks Hooks fishermen soon send Beaudacious to the southern end of the Gas Docks.
Legend has it that the Gas Docks cost more to build than the Bay Bridge and only two tankers had been unloaded when the system was deemed obsolete in the 1970s. The monstrous concrete and steel structure has the look of an unfinished bridge to nowhere.
Now, with cormorants perched on lamp posts high above the water, what may have been a financial bust is a hot fishing spot.
Aboard Lady Bobbie, New Bay Times co-founder, Flummoxed Fisherman Bill Lambrecht says jokingly: "On this boat, New Bay Times has decided to pay $25,000 for the first fish caught."
Trouble was, his shipmates do not take his words as a joke.
"We all heard him say it," one of them remarks.
"With that much money at stake, nobody here is friends," says another.
At 9:45, after a nervous couple of hours, Lambrecht himself hauls in the boat's first fish - a snapper blue - forestalling demands for any giant payout on what will become the Skunk Boat of this year's tournament.
The day and the fishing start heating up. On Brooks Hooks, Fisherman Stan Minken, a vascular surgeon at Johns Hopkins, unzips not at the belt but above the knee turning his pants into shorts.
"Drop your line right over the edge and take it down about two to three rod lengths," Capt. Bud says. He knows fish are there because he's consulted his fish finder. He's also ladled in a thick slick of chum.
Wham! The fish start hitting. Brooks Hooks found a school of rockfish and the lines can't go in the water fast enough.
First-timer Heagy has some beginner's luck and pulls out several nice rockfish. The second is 2334 inches and the early leader for the $11 biggest fish pool aboard Brooks Hooks.
Sure it's early, but who can resist Harrison's lunches? Inside each clear plastic lunch box, temptingly visible, repose two pieces of cold fried chicken; one ham and cheese sandwich on a bun (to be garnished with packets of mustard and mayonnaise); one hard boiled egg; one apple; one bag of chips; and either one Oreo brownie or a Sara Lee poundcake.
The first nibblers are cracking the tape seal, reaching in for hard-boiled eggs or chicken.
By noon, isolated yawns have multiplied aboard the Dawn Marie. Early rising and bright sun have taken a toll on the Dodd-Depfer group from Western Shores Mechanical Contractors. Eyelids droop as the Dawn Marie heads back to shore.
Already back is Rock-It, where fast and furious fishing has brought an early limit of two rock per fishermen Thomas Miller, Ray Weems, Jack Dorsey, William and Nick Prince and Scott Webb.
"We caught 50 or 60 undersized fish and 12 over 18 inches," says Weems, who's best measured 2012 inches. "We had a great time."
Across the Bay at the Gas Docks, Beaudacious is just getting started. Mark Behuncik brought in an early-morning 21-inch rockfish, but come noon the boat has only two blues and two rocks.
With a new spot, different bait and an afternoon tide change, the fish start running and the pace on Beaudacious picks up. Capt. Mike Lipsky switches bait from menhaden chunks and soft-shell clams and crabs to menhaden guts.
This is Lipsky's first year captaining Beaudacious. He took charge of the big boat with its flying bridge when Captain Bud Harrison bought Brooks Hooks. But Lipsky has worked with the Harrison family for years, beginning at Pier 5 at Baltimore's Inner Harbour after graduatiing from University of Baltimore.
Mrs. Harrison senior, clan matriarch, convinced Lipsky to head to Tilghman Island and he has captained there for the past 12 years, after spending three years as a mate.
He's a determined captain, ready to try every trick and stay out all day to bring his passengers fish. He's got a reputation for being a nut, as well. According to Lois Burton, Lipsky often starts his guests off with early morning tequila sunrises and has hidden aboard his boat a sling shot, which in past tournaments he and his passengers have used to launch water balloons at competing boats.
Perhaps it's the new boat, perhaps it's the crew or perhaps Lipsky himself is a bit older and tamer, but he's working hard today to get the rockfish limit of two each for his 10 fishermen.
Dawn Marie and its groggy fishermen have dropped their fish off for cleaning at the Harrison's fish shack under the new Knapp's Narrows bridge and are back at Chesapeake Inn.
An afternoon move closer to the pilings brings Brooks Hooks its limit: 24 rockfish and 14 blues. They're heading home.
Heagy's rockfish has held up. But only with arm twisting on the hour plus ride back to Tilghman Island is he able to coax $11 from fellow fishermen and legendary hold-outs Calvert Bregel, Stan Minken and Bill Burton.
Alibi is still in the fray. "Our luck was not good at the beginning, but when we moved to the Gas Docks we started catching," says Darrell Bloodsworth, of Glen Burnie, who's fishing with his father, Jim, and buddies Terry Barnes and Donald Weatherbee.
So are Tradition and Happy Pappy. Both boats are also full of happy fishermen courtesy of their boss, John Kirlin, of John J. Kirlin Mechanical Contractors in Rockville. On Happy Pappy, fisherman Andy Charney is about to get very lucky.
Still fishing, too, is Beaudacious, which will clock a 10-hour day before reaching home with 63 pounds of fish.
It's one of those days for the five fishermen aboard Lady Bobbie, where New Bay Time's own Flummoxed Fisherman Bill Lambrecht acts as mate to Capt. Stanley Larrimore.
For much of the day, Chesapeake Bay Foundation volunteer Bud Jenkins and his boat mates settle for seeing the big ones hauled in by boats nearby. Jenkins throws everything at the fish but the deck chairs; at one point, he is casting lures with one hand while using the other to 'live-line,' fishing with an alluring little spot swimming around at the end of his line.
Retired biology teacher and sister Foundation volunteer Mary Kilbourne catches the boat's only keeper rockfish, a skinny fellow who barely stretched 18 inches. Fishing neophyte Amanda Spake, Shady Sider and writer for U.S. News and World Report, shows fine form in hauling up three or four rockfish. However, she watchs forlornly as each swam away because none measured up.
Far away at the Gas Docks, Beaudacious finally calls it a day, finishing with 19 rockfish, eight bluefish and a well worn crew.
Jonathan Westmoreland, at age seven one of the youngest fishermen on the trip, learned to fish like a pro. Done in by eight hours of fishing, he sleeps the hour plus ride back to Harrison's.
Also tired but happy are Jonathan's grandfather Alexander Westmoreland, of Alexander's of Annapolis Salon and Day Spa, using the fishing trip for two for which he placed the winning bid at NBT's Sixth Anniversary Birthday Bash in May. Joining Westmoreland were his nephew, Donald Nawrocki, stepfather Donald Campbell and David Frost of Hollywood Tanning.
Also on board: Bob Riffle of Laurel and Leonard Lee of Eastport, who boated over on Lee's 37-foot live-aboard Time Out.
Rounding out Beaudacious' audacious crew are NBT general manager Knoll, wife Lisa Edler and friend Mark Behuncik.
On ice are 63 pounds of fish. "If it hadn't have been for Capt. Mike Lipsky, we wouldn't have caught them," said Riffle, who boated one 2012 inch and one 2134 inch rock to Lee's 22- and 25-inch fish.
Edler topped the boat with a rock of 2512 inches.
But Edler couldn't top Andy Charney, of Fairfax, Va., who staggers onto dry land after 11 hours on the water to report that his only keeper of the day measured 26 inches. That giant won Charney the tournament's grand prize, a day of fishing, food and fun for four at Harrison's Chesapeake Inn.
Lady Bobbie has caught the fewest fish - but produced the most prize-winners. Mary Kilbourne takes home the Most Species Award thanks mainly to reeling in a cow-nose ray along with a motley collection of rockfish, blues and spot. And a humongous ray it was, the biggest one that Capt. Larrimore had seen in a long time. That achievement wins Kilbourne $50.
And that's not all: Wily fishing veteran Bud Jenkins takes home the Skunked Angler prize of an old sock filled with $25 in quarters, narrowly defeating fishing newcomer Laura Tangley, another U.S. New-ser.
Back on shore, the straggling party of sun-baked sea-tossed and mostly well satisfied fishermen feasts on Harrison's ample outdoors buffet of crab cakes, fried chicken, corn on the cob, slaw, potato salad and home-made Parker House rolls.
Hosts Alex Knoll and Bill Burton flank winners: Andy Charney, biggest fish; Bud Jenkins, skunked; Mary Kilbourne, most species.
Will there be an NBT/Bill Burton Fifth Annual Fishing Frenzy?
"We'll be back," says Donald Weatherbee, fishing on Alibi. "We enjoyed ourselves very much and drank a lot of beer."
"It was fantastic. You couldn't ask for a better day of fishing," says fishing partner Darrell Bloodsworth.
Trumpets host Bill Burton: "Of course we will fish again next year. We still don't agree with the spending of our tax dollars on that stadium. Plus we're having too much damn fun to stop it now."
Look for the NBT/Bill Burton Fifth Annual Fishing Frenzy ads in NBT all summer long. Mark your calendar now to join us at Harrison's Chesapeake House the last Sunday of September - the 30th - next year.
Darcey Dodd, Christy Grimes, Christopher Heagy, Betsy Kehne, Alex Knoll, Bill Lambrecht and Sandra Martin contributed to this story.
| Issue 39 |
Volume VII Number 39
September 30-October 1, 1999
New Bay Times
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