The old ways die hard here at the top of the Chesapeake Bay.

Harry Jobes has been fishing and hunting here all his life. We saw Jobes and his son, Bobby, slicing across the calm water through the fog at the crack of dawn.

"Where the fish, Cap'n Harry?" we shouted through the mist.

"Follow me," he shouted back, and headed his blunt-nosed workboat across the Susquehanna flats to the shallows where the weed beds are supposed to be.

Jobes worked the water hard all morning Thursday. He ran his nets over all the beds where the striped bass are expected to be. At noon, he passed us again. His day's catch: three stripers each about 16 inches long. He didn't seem surprised.

Times are tough on the flats.

Jobes remembers far better days.

Once, the flats were crammed with submerged aquatic grasses. At low tide, you could see the tops of celery grass and eel grass and milfoil and water stargrass waving in the chop across all 10,000 acres.

The grasses made for an underwater paradise. They created the biggest nursery grounds on the East Coast for young stripers and a hotbed for bass, perch, pickerel and other gamefish, not to mention the baitfish they feed on.

The grass provided cover for the fish and it provided food in the fall for waterfowl. In times past, the sky would turn black with marauding flocks of canvasbacks, redheads and other ducks and geese.

Jobes and other local folks believe the grasses are coming back to the flats after a disastrous 10-year decline. But the people from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, who run collections and studies of the grasses every year, say that, overall, the situation on the flats is as bad as ever.

Harve de Grace is somewhat the exception. Milfoil grass appears to be reviving somewhat in a small section off this old bayside town. That's what buoys Jobes and the small legion of sport fishermen that visit here.

Lately, people have been showing up at the marinas with occasional good catches of stripers. Twenty fish is not uncommon.

That woulnd't be enough to start a run on the flats, except that they are catching them the old-time way, and that's worth a try.

Traditional heaven for a striped-bass fisherman has been finding a shallow place where the hard-fighting fish are thick. The angle then can skim a lure over the top of the water and watch the astonishing development of a striper crashing out of the weeds like an angry bull on the attack. High sport.

It's happening again on the flats. Not a lot, but some.

It was enough to induce three Washingtonians, including me, to try a hand at Susquechanna flats striper fishing. We came back almost empty handed, like Jobes, but believers.

"I'm going back, for sure," said Glenn Peacock, a professional bass fisherman. "We located them. We know they're there. We just have to get them to bite."

Those are heady words for a fellow who has just spent 12 hours under a steaming July sun casting across weed beds nonstop from dawn until almost dusk, and brought back one fish that exceeded the 14-inch minimum size - by one inch.

"I'm going back too," said Jay Cleiman, who didn't catch anything.

It's what they saw, not what they caught, that hooked these anglers.

It was the end of the outgoing tide around 11 a.m. We were drifting along a weed bed about a mile from Penns Beach Marina, where we put in. There was a cut in the weed bed, a small channel where the grass didn't grow.

Peacock was throwing a silver spoon with a yellow feather. He skimmed it across the weeds.

A silver streak dashed out from the grass, boiled the water and snatched at the lure, but missed.

Another came out on Peacock's next cast. Another on my cast and another on Cleiman's.

It's unclear what we were doing wrong. It was very clear that there were a lot of stripers and they were hungry or on the verge of being hungry.

A great big striper leaped clear of the water and smashed at Peacock's spoon. No take again. This was getting good.

"Just remember," said Peacock "somewhere down there there's another 20-pounder." He had seen a woman bring a 20-pounder a few days earlier.

No 20-pounder went home with us, but there's always another day.

The Susquehanna flats grass problems have everyone baffled. Submerged aquatic growth just tailed off about a decade ago all across the Bay and it's never come back. It hurt worst on the flats, where grasses once ruled the ecosystem.

Some theories blame farm herbicides, which presumably run off into the rivers and damage waterplant life.

Also, there was a sudden huge infusion of Eurasian milfoil in the flats, in the 1950s, according to Vern Stotts of the state DNR. That hardy grass squeezed out much of the traditional plant life. The the milfoil began to slide, in an apparently natural cycliac downturn. When it died off, there was nothing to replace it.

The Hurricane Agnes came along and buried what was left in silt. It hasn't been the same since.

Grass problems notwithstanding, Havre de Grace is a fine place to get a feel for striper fishing the old way.