Billy Brener is the chum king.
That's a dubious distinction, something akin to the sewer sultan or the prince of pesticides.
Chum is that horrible, greasy, bloody stuff you remember Robert Shaw doling out over the stern in Jaws. It usually consists of chunks of rancid animal matter chopped up into stringy masses and ladled into the sea.
The oily slick it produces simulates what's left over after a feeding frenzy by sharks or bluefish or other voracious predators of the deep. Its design is to draw hungry fish into the angles baited hooks.
As chum king of the Chesapeake Brener takes his business more seriously than most.
Your average chummer looks for the cheapest, most disreputable gruel to throw overboard.
Not Brener. Every Saturday morning he drives his brand new Coupe Deville down to the Maine Avenue fish market and makes his chum connection.
He looks for the boat with the freshest fish and orders 100 pounds of spot. These are tasty table fish that most folks consider a main course.
"What are you going to do with all these spot?" the fishmonger is likely to ask as he thumbs through his $50 payoff.
"Grind 'em up and use 'em to catch blues," Brener answers.
These are bluefish, it should be noted, that Brener could haul down to Woodfield's wholesale fish house at the end of the day and collect a nickel a pound for, if he's lucky. Baffling.
"It's my thing," Brener explained last weekend! "Some of my friends play golf. Some play tennis. Linda and I come down here every weekend and catch bluefish. It's what we like to do and I don't care how much it costs."
Linda is Brener's wife. She weighs 90 pounds, stands somewhere under five feet tall. She hails from Dallas and claims to be "a former Jewish princess."
Now she's the chum queen.
The scene: Saturday noon on the choppy Chesapeake.
Sharps Island Light is a mile away to the north at the mouth of the Chop-tank River. A half-mile west, scores of private boats and party boats are cruising along the ledge of the ship channel, trolling for blues.
Brener's boat, named the Chum King, of course, is anchored aline. Brener is standing amidships, a flailing bluefish in his right hand. The five-pounder is shaking wildly as it battles to dislodge the hook and line that brought it aboard.
Brener is spattered with bits and pieces of ground fish meat - chum from his grinder and other glop that the blue has spat at him in its fury.
"Bill-leee!" shouts Linda. "What a mess."
She grabs a 10-gallon pastic bucket, heaves it over the side and hauls it back up full of sea water. She grabs the lip and the bottom and sloshes the contents over her husband, then sets to work with a towel, cleaning goop from his ears, his hair, his tattered trousers.
Suddenly Linda's rod, which she has tucked into holder at the stern while she performs the mop-up, bends double and line screeches from the reel.
The duo does a Laurel and Hardy dance, bumping into each other, collapsing on the deck and dissolving into laughter as the rod tip bounces back, the fish having dined and departed.
The Breners and I shared an easy and mellow day on the bay, following their standard weekend routine. There was a leisurely lunch of Brener's special barbecued chicken, fresh pineapple, plums and other goodies, washed down with cold beer.
Then at 4, as brisk southwest breezes built to hammering gusts and the white-capped seas rose to three feet, we called it quits. We'd had five hours of fishing and there was a catchbox full of 33 fresh blues to show for it. And 50 pounds of spot left for the next day's chumming.
"I could belong to a yacht club," said Brener. "It's not a matter of money. I'm just not that kind of a guy."
The blues have finally lit up in earnest in the Chesapeake after a somewhat spotty early summer. On Sunday, for example, the 30-odd anglers aboard Capt. Doug Scheible's head-boat Bay King hauled in about 400 blues off Point Lookout, according to Wheaton angler Bill Schmidt.
The trollers get their share, too, but the chummers have more fun. Troller requires heavy gear to keep the lures down while the boat moves along. A chummer can use the lightest gear imaginable, right down to fly rods, to dangle his bait off the anchored boat.
It can be a ball. Say Brener: "If I had to troll, I'd just give it up."
Then he'd have to buy his bluefish. It'd be cheaper than spot.