Last summer Dave Hoffman and Art Hall went fishing twice with Charlie Nicholson, a charter skipper who works the waters around the mouth of the Potomac. They split each $150 fee for an all-day trip with two other anglers. The first time the four came back with 500 pounds of bluefish; the second time it was 700 pounds. The took home half the catch -- 600 pounds of fish for $150. Match that at the Maine Avenue fish market.
In addition to a bargain, they got two days in the sun and some spectacular sport, and they came home heroes because all their neighbors and work acquaintances got more bluefish than they knew what to do with.
Their success was nothing unusual. Hoffman knows a couple of guys from Ohio who fish with Nicholson one weekend a year, taking along whoever's around to get more lines in the water. At the end they load up their van with everything they've caught and rush it back to seafood-starved Cleveland, where they make a ridiculous profit for their two days' play.
This is charter fishing on the Chesapeake Bay, where there are so many bluefish at the height of the summer run that, in the words of Maryland fishery biologist Joe Boone, "You don't put your hand in the water."
And while it may seem silly to talk of summer sport now, the smart anglers have already lined up partners for charters from May through August.
Those who don't plan ahead will be hard-pressed to put together a trip when their friends come back with tales of great catches. It's not easy to line up four, five or six people for a day's excursion on the spur of the moment. And even if you can, you won't be likely to get the skipper you wnat when you want him.
There are at least three local places with big charter fleets -- Deale, Chesapeake Beach and the mouth of the Potomac. The first two are less than an hour's drive from downtown, the third about two hours. More adventurous anglers might want to extend their driving time and head for Tilghman's Island or Crisfield, Md.
All the fleets specialize in full or half day parties of up to six people, using traditional Chesapeake Bay deadrise workboats. Rates run about $100 for half a day, $150 and up for a full day. Different skippers have different techniques, but almost any of them can just about guarantee a boatload of bluefish anytime after the first of June. They'll also provide tackle, but check on fees. Some charge, some don't.
The blues work their way up the Bay, so the earlier fishing is best down at the mouth of the Potomac. The southern areas, closer to the ocean, also get a better variety of salt-water fish, with good chances for spot, croakers and sea trout, plus occasional drum fish.
But what the Deale and Chesapeake Beach fleets lack in variety they make up for in convenience. You can book a half-day charter at either place during the week, work the morning, head for the beach at lunchtime and be back home, loaded with fish, in time for the 9 o'clock movie on TV.
If you're food of sport fishing, as I am, it's good to find out in advance if the skipper you hook up with is willing to chum for fish -- grinding up bits of bait fish and spilling them over the side to draw the blues in so you can cast to them with light tackle. The standard technique -- trolling with heavy gear, dragging weighted lures behind -- catches fish, but lacks a lot in sporting appeal.
If you just can't wait until late May or early June, all the charter fleets book earlier trips starting around April 15 to chase big spawning rockfish and occasional blues moving up the Bay. But for a genuine guarantee, wait for the bluefish blitz.
For rates and reservations, call the following:
ASSOCIATED BAY CAPTAINS Boat in Deale and Annapolis; call 261-1115.
HAPPY HARBOR INN 301/867-0949.
BAY HARBOR MARINA 301/867-287.
MOUTH OF POTOMAC
SCHEIBLE'S 301/872-5185 (may not open until some time in March).
These are just a few of the available boats and bookings. A complete list of all Chesapeake Bay charter fishermen will be published in April by the Maryland Charter Boat Association. For a free copy, write to Bob Rohe, 112 Beverly Ave., Mayo, Md., 21106.