It was looking grim for Capt. Bobby Franklin aboard the charter boat Conquest H out of Deale.
A late start had put his party of five in rockfish waters a couple of hours behind the rest of the fleet. The radio was crackling with reports of two, three and even four rock landed on the other boats.
But rock bite early, and now it was noon and all Franklin had in the boat was a half-dozen small bluefish. He and mate Jack Manifold were conferring in low tones on the flying bridge. They knew rock fishing was dead for the day, but the other skippers were saying over the CB that no blues were working either.
Franklin swung the big ocean-going 42-footer around for one more slow trolling run. He was working the 30 foot depth line just out from Parker's Creek, an hour's run south of Deale.
Then the radio crackled and in seconds Franklin was up and shouting from the bridge, 'Reel 'em in, boys; let's go catch us some blues."
The report was from a boat near the radar towers below Chesapeake Beach, where blues were breaking the surface. It was a half-hour haul for us, and the rest of the fishing world had its ears on, too. By the time we arrived it had the air of a carnival, boats streaming in from all directions at full throttle.
The deep trolling lines were overboard and as we passed through all five lines bobbed down with strikes. I had an ultralight, spinning outfit I had rigged earlier for just such an eventuality and I grabbed it, ignoring the action on the trolling rigs.
"Flip tat spinning rig in there," Franklin yelled.
He didn't have to tell me; the little silver Tony Accetta No. 15 spoon was already on its way out. It hit and I gave it a jerk. A blue snapped at it but missed, right before my eyes; I jerked again and the big fish came back and hit it, WHAM, like the midnight special smacking a chicken.
The boat was still trolling along and the blue took off, dead astern. The six-pound test line tore from the reel so fast you could almost smell blue smoke from the little Mitchell 308.
There was no way to stop this fish. I just stood and watched the line rip off until 180 yards was out and there was 20 yards left.
I shouted to Franklin to stop the boat or I'd be out of line; the fish would snap off the minute if hit the end. Franklin hopped to and stopped us cold; even gave a little reverse.
With about 10 yards of lime left on the little rig the fish wore down and turned. Now it was a matter of working him in.
Sometimes it felt like the spoon was stuck on a tree stump. I'd pump the seven-foot Fenwick rod until it was bent double and it didn't feel like anything gave on the other end. But each time the rod tip came down I'd gain a little.
And finally, after 10 minutes of arm-wearying pumping and cranking, the blue surfaced just off the stern. He spied the boat, gave a slash of his tail and ringed out line as he headed back for deep water.
The light line held, his strength expired and with more pumping and cranking he was alongside the boat. Manifold grabbed the net and the fish was aboard; a good six-pound fighter than lost a good six-pound fight.
There was much whooping and hollering from the others in the party - a crew of WJLA-TV-7 news and cameramen who were fishing and filming for a 7:30 Live segment.
At day's end we had 38 blues abroad. We never hit a rockfish but it was out own fault. We should have started at the crack of dawn.
Of all the blues, the one that felt the best was the one that look that little spoon on the ultralight gear. It made the day.
This is the season for breaking blues. Whether uou're planning to fish with a charter skipper or off an old friend's runabout, think about taking along your light freshwater gear. You can't fish with it all day, but when you're in the middle of a breaking school you might latch onto one that will give you a real feel for the power of a blue. Most charter skippers will stop for breaking blues if you have the grear to fish for them. Big popping lures work well, as do small spoons.
One remainder: Any time you take freshwater gear on a saltwater outing, clean, everything out with tap water when you get home and oil it before you put it away. Nothing will eat up a good reel like salt air and salt water.