Capt. Doug Scheible brought his aging headboat Bay King back from the Florida Keys three week ago.
It was a horrible trip up the inland waterway, replete with a complete blowout and accompanying two-day layover in Coinjock, N.C. It rained, it blew, and even the sturdy old Bay King was taking it on the chin.
Eventually he made it, only to find more rain, more cold and a big empty Chesapeake Bay where the bluefish ought to be.
"I couldn't take it. I sat around here for a week canceling trips and then one day I just said the heck with it, brought me a plane ticket and in three hours I was back in Florida catching tarpon."
Enough tarpon, in fact, to win a tournament and to come home with stories of 100-pound-plus monsters on 20-pound-test line.
But all wonderful things must end and last weekend the tanned and robust Scheible was back at work in Wynn. Md., firing up his engines for the start of the headboat season for blues.
He couldn't have picked a prettier day. Gentle breezes dappled the tea-colored water where the Potomac meets the Chesapeake, the sky stretched blue and endless.
The early arrivals showed up at 5 a.m. to claim coveted seats at the stern, where they could cast into the oily slick of chopped-up alewives that the mates set out.
The theory: famished blues would charge up the chum line, gobbling the morsels of meat and gristle the crew doled out, and when the fish got close enough they would gobble up our cut bait with wild abandon.
But where are the blues?
The miserable spring has left its mark. Water temperature Saturday was 56, about six degrees shy of what bluefish anglers regard as ideal. It makes the big choppers sluggish.
"I'm seeing them all over the depth finders," Scheible said as we worked our way into a crowd of charter boats and private skiffs bobbing around Buoy 50. "But I don't like what I'm hearing on the CB. They're not biting."
We anchored just off the ship channel and before the boat swung true the anglers were wetting their lines.
Mates manned the chum grinders on either side of the boat, feeding in bushels of alewives and cheerfully spooning out globs of dark, pungent meat.
Nine o'oclock stretched to 10, then 10:30. Only two bites, both off the stern, and both fish got off before the hooks were set. "Looks like the jerk's on the wrong end of the line," Scheible snorted.
The captain paced the deck with increasing anxiety, but his fever was nothing to match that of my 11-year-old nephew, Luke.
Luke almost caught a bluefish last year. He was pitching plugs off the beach at Block Island, R.I. The older folks had long since given up, but the little guy kept tossing and retrieving as dark closed in.
We'd just about forgotten him when a shriek came from the surf, followed moments later by his shaking little form padding up the rocks.
He'd had a strike and the monster blue had riped off 20 yards of line, then with a mighty shake snapped free.
Was Luke to be skrunked again?
"I'm going to put it deep," he said Saturday, dropping his balt down 10 feet. WHAM? The rod tip lurched down, practically lifting his 70 pounds from the deck.
"I got one!" he screamed. Half the boat raced over to see. The big blue dodged and darted and Luke hung on with everything he had.
"Crank him in," someone yelled. "Let him run," someone else yelled. "Drop your tip," said a third. "Keep your tip up," said another.
Luke heard them all and did everything they said, right or wrong. He fouled five lines as the fish zipped and whizzed. The captain helped him, the mate helped him, it seemed the whole boat was by his side.
A silver-gray shape emerged - the fish, darting along the hull. Someone grabbed that gaff.Luke shook and shouted and his eyes grew wide. The gaff swung over the side. It plunged; it pierced; the fish was in the boat.
They carried it back to the big ice box and dumped it in. Luke was shaking, his chest heaving. He raced back to the stern and started at his 12 pound trophy.
"There isn't anybody on this boat I'd rather see catch that fish than that boy," Sccheible.
The day stretched on and it never did get good. Maybe a dozen fish were landed, the final one by 82-year-old Elmer Riggy of Arlington. Luke had another one on but it snapped the leader after a two-minute fight. At 3 we called it quits.
It was no memorable bluefish day, but those who know the bay know it will better, far better, before long. Scheible's regulars recall days when they had to wrap it up at noon - there was nowhere left to put the fish.
Scheible's is a pleasant sleepy place at the Potomac's mouth, and Doug Scheible runs the only headboat I know of on the bay that specializes in chumming for blues.
It can be maddening because lines tend to snarl on practically every cast. But six-person charter boats are expensive and you have to book ahead. For those anglers taken with a sudden urge to fish for blues tomorrow, Scheible's can be the answer.
The chumming trips are 8 a.m. Wednesday, Fridays Saturdays and Sundays, but early arrivals get the best spots. The fare is $12.50, plus rod rental and $1 to cover the cost of the chum.
Call 301 - 872-5185 for details.