It all seemed so simple. Toss the johnboat on the roof rack and take off at the crack of dawn Sunday. After a fast run out Rte. 50 and over the Bay Bridge you're bass fishing on the peaceful, quiet waters of the upper Choptank River by 8 a.m.
And it all worked, right up to the peaceful, quiet part.
On young Phil Gardner's advice I picked a put-in at Denton, Md., for my first try at the freshwater end of the Choptank. "It's perfect," he said. "The ramp's right off Rte. 404 in a park in the middle of town. Everything's right there."
Everything and everybody.
Suprise, suprise. Sunday marked the opening of the Maryland Poor Boys Bass Club tournament season and tiny Denton was the happy beneficiary. G. Daniel Crouse Memorial Park was crammed to the dorsal fins with bih bassing rigs. Red-white-and-blue bunting decked the seawalls, camper vans were lined up for the weigh-in and all over the narrow river fast boats full purposeful fisherman zoomed and roared.
On a day I expected my major competition from a few old geezers fishing worms from the guana factory pilings I was outmanned by no less than 73 serious bass men from all over the mid-Atlantic region, they were angling for first prize money of $280 and willing to spare neither expense nor-discomfort to get the big fish.
I was planning a HUck Finn day - one rod, a slow little boat and a bucket of minnows.
I looked like potential disaster for anybody looking forward to a simple day of recreation on the river, but it turned out not to be. The Poor Boys managed to stay low-key enough and they didn't ruin other folks' fun. Among tournament bass fishermen, that's a rare accomplishment.
Ken Sechler came down for the tournament from Dover, Del. He'd fished the river many times before and he had some favorite spots.
One was upstream from Denton in a broad bay. There the east shore of the river is dotted with overhanging trees; stumps and stickups poke out of the shallows.
Schler had plans for one stump, but some local folks were fishing for crappie next to it. Sechler eased his fancy bass boat within hailing range.
"Pardon," he said. "There's great big bass settin' in that stump right there. I caught him last year and he weighed five pounds then. Lord knows what he weighs now.
"You mind if I throw this worm in there and fetch him out?"
The locals were delighted. "Go right ahead."
Sechler tossed his gaudy plastic worm in and started pumping it very slowly back to him. On the first pump he paused, reeled in his slack, took a deep breath and heaved the rod back over his head as hard as he could. Nothing gave. Sechler had caught a great big stump.
"That was him," he said. "I just waited too long. He took that worm and went right back under that stump."
Everybody had a good laugh.
Sechler had another good laugh at the end of the day. He turned in five bass weighing 10 pounds 7 ounces and took the second prize trophy and a check for $100.
In all, Poor Boys anglers collected more than 160 pounds of bass. all of which they turned back into the stream alive after the weigh-in. The winner, Randy Romig of Spring City. Pa., had 10 pounds 14 ounces.
The biggest fish of the day was a 3 1/2-pounder.
The Poor Boys run a nice show. Tournament entry fee is $20 a man, and while the fellows are out fishing, State Director Jimmy Dean usually had some program or other planned for youngsters and wives.
"We're based on family participation," said Dean. "We try to have our programs near a campground so the whole family can come and have a good time."
The Maryland Poor Boys have five more local tournaments planned, one on the Potomac at Fort Washington Marina on June 4.
"We concrentrate on the tidal rivers," said Dean. "There's really only one other body of water where you can run a high-powered boat - Deep Creek Lake."
The Choptank showed what tidal rivers can do. Plenty of fish were taken, mostly in three to six feet of water on spinner balts and crank baits.
There's fish to catch, and the Choptank is a pleasant river. The water is clear and registers a substantial tide as far up as Denton. Channels are well marked and there are plenty of fallen logs and good depth variation, making for fine bass habitat.
Don't bother to bring along a minnow bucket. Score at the end of the day: Poor Boys 160 pounds, minnow fisherman 0. Again the outdoor editor is skunked.