Observations of a Washington fisherman in May:
There are two "opening days" of trout season in Virginia. Saturday was the second opener at Gooney Run near Front Royal.
Men, boys and girls (no women, oddly) shared the banks and commiserated over the lack of trout.
"No fish in here this time," said a man with a tobacco chew. "I heard they only put in 500. They was supposed to stock 5,000"
At about 7:30 in the morning a man with a Pennsylvania accent carried his son, who had no hip boots, across the stream for the zillionth time.
"I told you, Billy, you have to make up your mind," he said. The man carried an open can of Pabst beer. In his hip pocket there was a pint of whiskey.
On the far shore the man stopped to fish for a moment. He handed his son the beer. The boy's chest filled with pride. "They're gonna think I'm drinking this," he said to his father, who didn't hear him.
The boy caught five trout in the morning, His father caught none.
The sign at Captain White's in Silver Spring, where the rock band plays loud and well, says, "Yes, we have smelts!"
Bernard Cooper says he had smelts in the Midwest. "Split 'em, pull out the center bone, and fry'em up. Deee-licious."
At the Florentine Restaurant in Tappahannock, Virginia, the delicacy of the month is herring roe for breakfast.
"Do you want your roe fried on the side or all mixed up with the eggs?" asks the waitress. It is not quite 6 a.m.
A sign on the milk machine, which has two spigots, says, "Please Do Not Use But One Side At A Time."
The fried roe have been dipped in batter and taste like dry fried chicken. Nestled in the thick crust is a pair of egg sacs as long as a child's fingers.
Occupacia Creek and Cat Point Creek and tidal streams that run off the Rappahannock River just above Tappahannock. There are whispers in the bass-fishing community that they are the best bass creeks in the state.
Twelve hours of hard fishing yields only five bass, three in the two-pound class.
Just past dawn, working past a point at the mouth of Occupacia, a large bird spooks out of a tall tree. It is black with a white head and tail. a bald eagle.
Occupacia is beautiful -- green farm fields interspersed with tangled bottomland woods.
Cat Point Creek on the north side of the river is still wilder, with practically no farm fields. It winds narrower and narrower through spring-green swamp woods till it's barely 30 feet across.
The banks are choked with water lilies. Late in the day the lilies show yellow flowers, which open in the evening. Huge great blue herons stalk the shallows.
Seven miles upstream the creek opens up into a small bay. Jay Cleiman, who is driving the boat, says, "You know there are fish in here."
As if to prove the point, an osprey flaps past, just over the treeline, carrying in its talons a small silver fish.
"You ought to come over here," says Bill Burgess. "There's some real big sunfish under the hickory tree."
Burgess has been promising big bass out of his six-acre farm pond in Greene County, south of Culpeper, Virginia.
With a fly rod you flip a litte cork popper no bigger than a pencil eraser into the shady shallow water.Twitch it.
The sunfish, which get to be about the size of an adult's hand, are incapable of leaving the cork popper alone. Throw it in the same spot 30 times and 25 of those times something will strike at it.
A big one hits. Burgess wants to keep it. He has no creel. He shrugs and slips the fish into the pocket of his jeans.
At the White Palace in Purcellvile, Virginia, the luncheon special is sauteed shad.
"Bones in or bones out?"
"It's not bored. There's bones in it. You have to eat around the bones," says the waitress, belaboring the point.
The week before, she explains, a man came in and ordered the shad. He cut it up with a knife and fork and tried to eat it straight, then demanded his money back because he couldn't.
"If you order shad," she says, "you ought to know about the bones."