A crew of us makes an annual pilgrimage to the mouth of the Potomac each spring when the big bluefish start hitting.We figure four people is about right, because the action can be fast and furious and the fewer lines to foul the better.
Our foursome is pretty well established, but this year we had a vacancy and were casting around for an angler to fill it.
Believe it or not, it can be difficult to find someone for even a guaranteed-action voyage when it happens to fall in the middle of the week.
It wasn't until the last minute that we came upon Dominique Dermo, of Dominique's resturant in Washington. He was waxing hosty with a crowd of government and industry heavies.
But when the subject of fishing came up he lost his savior faire.
"You are going for the blues?" he gushed. "Ah, yes, shumming (chumming). I know it well. You must take me along."
It turns out Dominique had planned to spend this week in Montana chasing trout before business knocked it out. "I am dying to fish," he said."Life is too short."
With that, he dashed off to the kitchen to order up "Dominique's peek-neek" from his head chef. We would eat well. "Tell your friends the food and wine is taken care of."
So on Tuesday we met at the Seven-11 in Tappahannock, Va. The tail end of Dominique's battered limousine scraped pavement as it groaned under the weight of the feast.
We were to fish with Dave Rowe aboard his 40-foot, Bay-built Ken-Ma-Ray out of Lewisetta, on the Virginia countryside; clear skies, light breeze and promises of a warm and sunny day.
Then wham, out of nowhere came a fog that turned billboards into grey outlines by the roadside.
"We'll try it," said Rowe, "but I don't know how far we'll get."
We got across the creek, is how far, where we picked up bushels of alewives to use for chum. By the time we turned around we couldn't see marker one in the channel.
So we waited. We wandered around the fish wholesaler's place, saw the picking room where crabs are divested of their tasty white meat by practice fingers, watched armies of cats descend on the arrivng boats, waiting for scraps. Dominique spotted on netter with a handsome boatload of fresh croaker, big ones one to two pounds, and make a hasty buy of a bushel. "We won't go home emptyhanded," he said.
As quickly as it had come the fog began to life. We set out in a three-boat line with two other party boats, staying together for safety.
By the time we hit Point Lookout we were in clear air and the sun was beating down. We anchored north of Lookout, a couple miles off shore, and Rowe began grinding and ladeling out the sweet-smelling, oily gruel.
He confessed that even though conditions looked perfect, with a flood tide carrying the chum slick straight off the stern and a tiny breeze dappling the water, things had been slow.
The day before he'd hauled out only four fish. We were using light tackle from six-to 15-pound test line - and with bites that few we didn't want to miss any.
It was a slow morning, but after an hour or so I felt a harsh chomp on my bait. I waited, let the fish run as 10-pound line free-spooled off the little spinning outfit, then snapped the hook into place.
It was a fine fish, about seven pounds, and Dominique celebrated by splashing fine white wine in our glasses.
Soon the others had hits as the choppers cruised up the chum line, and though the action never was nonstop, by noon we had a dozen fish in the boat, and another dozen we'd lost by not setting the hook right.
The sun was high, our backs were burning and the fish were cooperating. What more could we ask?
Dominique had slipped away to the cabin. By the time we discovered him it was complete - halved, iced lobsters, rack of lamb that had been sauteed in lemon juice and garlic, home-made mayonnaise, fresh pate de foie gras en brioche flown in the day before from Paris on the Concorde.
For a finishing touch he splashed fine champagne over a plate of strawberries as big as your fist and cut fresh honeydew melon. He poured the rest of the bubbly in our glasses with a flourish.
There was a plate for everyone, including the captain, who responded by phoning up his pal on the neighbor party boat, Luke.
"Hey, Luke," he said, what are you having for lunch today?
"Corned beef? Mmmmm, sounds good. Talk to me later and I'll tell you a story."
We got a good laugh and went back to gorging ourselves on haute cuisine. "Not bad for a chum boat," said Rowe, smacking his lips.
The rods lay dormant as we ate, except for one strike on mine. We ignored it and the fish got off.
Sated, we went back to our rods. The fish made our day complete.
After a half-hour, every rod in the boat suddenly bowed in half as a school of blues descended on us. Even the captain had one on, on the fly line he was dangling over the stern.
It was 10 minutes of mayhem, but we landed them all, including a fine 12-pound sea trout that had struck Dominique's cut bait.
By five were done in, with 36 fish in the cooler, full bellies and a glow of satisfaction.
We headed back, cleaning fish on the stern and sipping beer.
One of our crew was Gerry Almy, who lives a quiet life in his cabin by the Shenandoah, making a living peddling magazine stories about days just like this one.
On the drive back home Dominique, talked of his dream.
"Some day I'll get out of this rat race, sell the restaurant and buy a little fishing camp.
"I want to be rich - rich enough to live like him." He pointed to Almy's car up ahead, trundling back to the mountains.
Rowe specializes in light tackle bluefish trips. He's a good captain and pleasant man. Contact him at 804-529-6335. Rates are $130 a day; he carries up to six anglers.