The Civil Servant had been fishing the Potomac now and again for several seasons and had only two buck shad, a few bluegills and some teeny-weeny perch to show for it. So when the Nationl Park Service offered to show all comers how to catch fish at Great Falls Park on Saturday mornings he was first in line.
"My office is involved in energy on a global scale," the Civil Servant said. "Jimmy Carter is the first President since the second Roosevelt who really understands how serious the problem is, and after a week at the desk have to get out somewhere and unwind. I haven't got time to go very far, so the Potomac is ideal. Most of the time I wind up sitting on the river bank drowning worms, which is okay because there's an astonishing amount of wildlife to be seen. But it sure would be nice to catch some fish."
Ranger Fran T. Rametta wasn't making any promises. "This is our first session (the free fishing trips start at 7 a.m. each Saturday from the park visitor center on the Virginia side), and we might not catch anything. But the oldtimers around here know where the holes are, and we're going to visit some they have pointed out to me." One of the oldtimers had staggered away with 75 pounds of catfish a few days before.
Rametta is a fisherman, not a theoretician, so the classroom instruction amounted to a quick visit to a fish tank containing a largemouth bass, its small mouth cousin, and a catfish.
The next stop was a long shallow pond near the outer parking lot, a remnant of the C&O Canal, where heavy swirls on the pollen-dusted water showed respectable bass were lurking. Half an hour later they still were lurking, having refused the Civil Servant's several offerings. "I think I would try this place alone, very quietly, at first light," Rametta said. "Spinnerbaits and popping bugs, maybe a minnow."
A short walk away was a fishy-looking backwater along the riverbank which turned out to be too shallow. "If this drought breaks and the river comes up there should be plenty of cats and probably bass here," Rametta said. "I think the old hands use mainly squid and shrimp along here."
Then it was on to the fail-safe fallback position, the dam above the falls that backs water to supply the city's reservoir. Rametta's lure of choice was a small Beetle Spin with a white body. "White seems to work better than any other color along this stretch of the river, probably just because they can see it better in the murky water."
The Civil Servant worked the lure as recommended, just outside the backboil of the dam, while Remetta went off to coach another student, a college-type person named Dana who was on his first outing, with a brand-new rod and reel. CS stuck with the Beetle Spin even when another member of the class switched to worms and immediately hauled in the biggest bluegill Rametta had ever seen taken from the Potomac.
A catfish snatched his neighbor's next worm, and the Civil Servant was about to sneak a night crawler onto his own hook when Rametta came back holding up a 12-inch smallmouth and reported that somebody else had taken four even larger ones on a spinnerbait.
When the worm advocate moved above the dam and quickly pulled in two more bluegills and a mudcat, plus an injured carp he hauled in by hand, CS gave in and switched to worms under a bobber. Two hours later all his worms were drowned and it was time for lunch.
"Sorry about that," Rametta said as the rest of the party gathered up their fish. "Sometimes they bite and sometimes they don't."
"I have noticed that," the Civil Servant said.