Dr. Lyle Korn called last week and breathlessly recounted the events of his spectacular Sunday on the river.
"I don't know how to tell you this," he said. "I don't even know if I should. But I've got to tell somebody."
"I think," he continued, drawing out the words for dramatic effect, "I've found the spawning grounds for all the crappies on the Potomac River. I know it sounds unbelievable. But I mean it."
"These aren't little crappies like you find in a pond, either," he said. "I caught one that was 15 inches and all the rest were huge, too. They were fighting like bass. I was so shocked I took them up to Fletcher's Boathouse to weigh them in. Then I felt guilty for keeping all those pregnant females.
"The freezer is full of crappies."
Calls like this come every day. Then you ask where the hole is and the line mysteriously goes dead.
For some reason Korn didn't hang up.
"I'll tell you," he said, "but you've got to be sworn to secrecy. I'm afraid everyone will go there and wipe out the crappie population."
He not only told, he offered a guided tour. We met at 7:30 the following morning in front of the Watergate apartments and watched while the commuter traffic streamed downtown along Rock Creek Parkway. The flowering cherries in front of the Kennedy Center swayed in brisk north-west winds. A perfect spring day.
"I've been here an hour already," Korn admitted. "But I haven't wet a line. I've been waiting for you."
Then he led me past the Harry T. Thompson boat center, where the GW men's and women's crews were launching their racing shells and hammering along across the sparkling water.
"That may be a problem," said Korn. "All this activity could be bad."
He showed me the spot, which was perfect crappie spawning habitat. There was a steep dropoff from shore; the remains of an old dock piling poked up out of the water.
We checked the tide-low but rising fast, again an ideal circumstance on the Potomac.
We rigged our lines with dime-store crappie jigs suspended two or three feet under small bobbers and we cast out beyond the pilings.
We watched the bobbers bob back to shore in the wind.
Before 15 minutes passed we had three fat crappies on the stringer, and before an hour went by the stringer was filling up.
Korn was not satisfied.
"Not big enough," he said, waving dispassionately at the stringer of 10-and 12-inch fish. "On Sunday we didn't catch a single one that small."
We rectified that in a hurry.
He had brought along a bottle of pickled silversides he had bought at Sears. I rigged one on my jig, shifted the bobber up a foot to accommodate the rising tide and cast out past the pilings.
The bobber went down with a slurp.
I let it swim away for a three count and pulled back to set the hook. The battle was on.
The crappie flailed and carried on, breaking the surface three times. Then I foolishly hauled it up the six-foot embankment. When it was safely ashore Korn raced over with a tape measure and took a reading.
"Fifteen inches," he exclaimed. "What a catch!"
We kept on until 11, when he had to go uptown to see patients. We pulled up the stringerful and carefully detached each fish and set it free. All had survived.
We saved out the biggest and remeasured - two 13-inchers and the monster, which had somehow shrunk to 14 1/2.
"Just don't be too specific about where it is," Korn said as we parted. "Make it the second Watergate coverup. With deep-throat crappies."
Korn is among the growing legion of local folks who are discovering the rejuvenated Potomac.
He grew up here and graduated from Coolidge High School and American University before going off to medical school in Cleveland.
"I can't believe I lived here all these years and never took advantage of all this," he said, motioning to the Potomac coursing by.
"We have it all. A beautiful day, beautiful scenery (the women's crew was just then taking out) and beautiful fishing."