A lot of folks turn up their noses at bottom-fishing. They say it's unexciting, messy, and the catch is almost all small stuff.
All these things are true, but there are plenty of pluses.
For the angler who doesn't own a boat a bottom-fishing expedition in a rented skiff provides a chance to control one's destiny, at least as long as the motor holds up.
Action is almost always assured. Most marina operators will give you a rough idea of where the fish are likely to be, then it's up to you and your party to find the precise spot where fishing is best. But practically no one gets skunked.
Bottom-fishing is the perfect way to introduce children and nonfishing friends to the world of hook and line. And it doesn't cost a fortune.
The mecca for bottom-fishermen in the Washington area is Scheible's a charterboat and skiff renta; center about two hours south of the city in Wynne, Md., at the mouth of the Potomac.
Scheible's and Poole's Fishing Center on nearby St. George Island have the advantage of protected river waters close to the Chesapeake Bay and have a good mix of river and Bay fish.
Both places reported good catches last week of bluefish and sea trout up to the 10-pound range. The old standby bottom fish-croaker, spot and perch -- are also thick.
Poole's and Scheible's rent skiffs in the 16 to 20-foot range with 6-h.p. motors for $30 a day, generally 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The boats hold no more than four adults and are not designed to go out into the Chesapeake. Stick to the broad river-mouth.
Up the Potomac is Quade's in the town of Bushwood at the mouth of the Wicomico. This sleepy little fishing hold is more in the tradition of quiet bottom-fishing. There are no big blues or sea trout to battle this far upriver and the prey is all small stuff -- perch, baby blues (snappers), spot and an occasional croaker.
Quade's boats are $16 a day, including motor and fuel.
You won't load up the cooler in a hurry fishing out of Quade's because the fish run around three to a pound, but there's plenty of action and delightful scenery.
George Quade drew a map of the hot spots when Dave Hoffman and I dropped down last week. He told us the fish favored oyster beds and shallow water and pointed out where they were.
"When you get on an oyster bed you can tell you're there by the feel of the sinker bouncing along the bottom," he said. "As soon as you drop off onto a muddy bottom you won't catch fish."
It took us about an hour before we found an oyster bed that was absolutely carpeted with fish. We used light spinning rods with two-ounce sinkers and two-book bottom fishing rigs. For bait we had three peeker crabs, about 75 cents a piece, and a dozen bloodworns, $250.
But the fish were so thick we didn't need bait. I sent a rig down with bare hooks.It took a little longer, but within minutes a six-inch perch took the nonbait.
In four hours of fishing we landed about 50 perch, baby blues and spot worth keeping and threw back 50 more undersized spot.
We had a little motor trouble, almost inevitable on these overworked rental skiffs, but the boat was a delight -- an old, hand-made. 19-foot pine and oak creation that cut through the water the way it should and didn't leak a drop.
Bottom fishing on the lower Potomac is good now and almost everyone agrees it gets better in August.
Skiffs also are available for rent in Solomons, Md., at the mouth of the Patuxent River north of the Potomac-Doris Johnson at Woodburns said anglers have been pulling in spot, perch and occasional croaker.
Woodburns rents skiffs for $20 a day, including motor and fuel, or $7 a day for the boat. Johnson said other boat rental spots in Solomons are Skipper's, K.E. Lore and the Island Carry out.
Most places have plenty of boats during the week but recommend reservations on the weekend.