A letter came the other day from a fellow who's finally had it with gasoline and big cars and comsumptive boats.

He has a beautiful boat -- a deep-vee fiberglass fishing boat better than 20 feet in length with offshore capability. But the drive back and forth to the Chesapeake and the fuel bills from adventures out in the big water are evidently getting him down.

"What about the Potomac?" he asked. "What can I do with my boat there?"

My advice as a longtime fan of fishing and boating on the Potomac is this: Sell your boat, friend. Then buy two brand-new boats and, with the money left over, treat the whole family to two weeks in Hawaii.

Two for the price of one, and a bundle left over?

Yes, indeed.

In this age of small-is-beautiful, the Potomac is a perfect place to pull in the belt without sacrificing sport and pleasure.

Washington's river offers excellent fishing and wonderful places to explore, but exploring them in a Wellcraft or a Mako or a Seacraft would be like driving a Winnebago to work. People used to be able to waste like that, but those days are gone.

You need two boats to be a true Potomac river rat because the Potomac is really two rivers; Washington sits just below the dividing line.

Above Little Falls the Potomac is mostly fast water, with some deep pools between the riffles. There's only one kind of boat for water like that -- a canoe.

A brand-new good canoe today costs around $500, though you can get lesser boats for less money. With paddles, life jackets, cushions, lines and a little anchor you've got a $650 investment.

That boat is the key to a door on the wilderness. I've just acquired my first canoe (used, for $175 -- I'm an inveterate cheapskate).Just looking at it nestled up against the fence in the back yard gives me a thrill.

Thinking about the places that aluminum bullet gives me access to makes me feel better all day. My vocabulary is broadened with references to places like Point of Rocks, White's Ferry, the Seneca Breaks, Mather Gorge, Pennyfield Lock.

Or tidal marshes below the city, like Mason Neck and Pohick Bay. All these places are within an easy hour's drive of Washington and the suburbs. And that's just the Potomac: It doesn't even take into account the other canoeing rivers that grace our area -- the Monocacy, Goose Creek, the Shenandoah and Cacapon and Patuxent. They're all good.

That takes care of upstream. Downstream the flat tidal stretches present a harder boat choice. I myself don't have the right boat yet, but I think I've finally figured out what it is.

It's an aluminum boat about 15 or 16 feet in length with all the creature comforts built in. Several companies are marketing such vessels now, including MonArk, Sea Nymph, Fisher Marine and Bass Tracker, and after a couple of trips in a friend's model, I'm sold.

These are called bass boats, but my friend just calls his a fishing boat. It has raised casting platforms fore and aft; a live well for bait and fish; a 35-horsepower outboard that will run all day on six gallons of fuel; an electric trolling motor mounted forward for close work; a trailer that pulls happily behind his Toyota; a depth-finder and comfortable plush vinyl seats.

He paid less than $2,500 for the whole rig, but he got a fat discount and drove to Missouri to save delivery expense.

The latest ads I've seen list his boat and ones like it at between $3,000 and $4,000, including the trailer, depending on options.

Some folks call these craft "tin boats" a slur that really isn't deserved. Aluminum flat-bottom boats have come a long way in recent years.

My friend's is well-powered and beamy enough to be stable with two or three people fishing. It's economical, yet fast enough to buzz from place to place in the Potomac below Washington, where largemouth bass hotspots are in just about every backwater off the main stream.

Assuming our big-water friend can get $10,000 for the boat he no longer feels right about using, he's going to end up with a new world to explore, the perfect boats to explore it in, and a fat wad of green in his hip pocket.

Not a bad deal at all.