The good news for autumn perch fishermen on the Chesapeake Bay is that Clint Bowman is in Montana.
Bowman the gray-haired scion of Beltsville Sport Center in Prince George's County, has his own way of doing just about everything and it always seem to work twice as well as anyone else's way.
Using a technique he's developed over years to pursue perch, he's been laying waste to the population of these small, tasty fish the last six weeks.
Unforutnately, he chooses the pilings off the busy Bay Bridge to do his stunning deeds, so the rest of the world gets to sit by helplessly and watch.
"Nobody catches fish like Clint," said his frequent fishing partner, Curt Forrester, "We had a guy out with us last week. At the end of the day he said he was going to come back next time and put it on Clint. I told him he's going to have to get up yesterday to do that."
Well, Bowman is off to the wild west for a month-long wilderness trek on horseback, chasing elk, mule deer, antelope and bear. With a month of good perch fishing left, we mice can scurry around and practice without the master glaring over our shoulders.
Good news: Before he left, the master let go a few of his secrets.
He just couldn't keep quiet about his best day ever, when he and three colleagues came back from a day of perch-jerking with 269 of the critters in the cooler.
"Show me," I said.
So we met at noon on Labor Day and took off from Beltsville, trailering a 17-foot skiff and a boatload of coolers to bring home the expected booty.
Bowman did the driving. Young Courtney Lyons, then Forrester and I, in order, were next to him. We were strung across the cab seat of Bowman's truck.
Our put-in was at Sandy Point State Park at the west end of the Bay Bridge. With 17 boat ramps there's never a wait there, even on Labor Day. From the ramp we could have paddled to the fishing hole.
Bowman piloted us out past the end of the stone breakwater through a firestorm of holiday boaters. He took a sharp right 50 yards into the bay and stopped a few feet later between bridge pilings numbered 21 and 22.
"Put you on a little Beetle Spin," he said. The chaos that passes for my tackle box refused to cough one up, which caused him great glee.
"These lures get expensive once you're out here, " he said. "I think the going price is $10 apiece, isn't it, Curt?" Then he cheerfully tossed over the little white spinnerbait with a 1/32nd ounce lead jig attached.
We set up a little assembly line. Forrester was on the bow with some garden worms, fishing for tiny spot. When he caught one he'd toss it to young Lyons who cut it into small strips. Then we'd all tack a strip of spot onto the lure for added appeal.
That was only one of many jobs for Lyons, who rated the title "boy," and got to do all the dirty work. "That boy's as handy as a button on a short," Forrester said.
With the baits thus dressed up, we cast them against the stone piles at the base of the pilings and retrieved them at impossibly low speed, so they'd bump along on the rocks. When they stopped with a sudden jerk it was perch time.
Or mud toad time. Or stringray time (Forrester landed a 20-pounder). Or spot time, Or, we hoped without avail, rockfish time.
Anyway, it worked. While crowds of motorists streamed by overhead and bewildered unsuccessful fishermen cruised past trying to figure out our secret, we hoisted up 71 perch and two floundner.
And we quit before evening when a storm crashed in.
The nice thing about Chesapeake Bay perch fishing, which should hold up into October, is that anybody can do it. Sandy Point State Park rents out handsome yellow boats to people who don't have their own and the fishing holes are so close even boating novices can get to them safely.
And perch are about as good to eat as anything that swims. We fileted ours, rolled the flaky white meat in a mixture of flour and corn meal and fried up bite-sized chunks for dinner three days running. We never got tired of it.
In addition, something wonderful happens on the Chesapeake when August ends. It turns cool and glittery in the autumn sun, even when you're stuck under the rumbling bridge.
"At least we won't get wet under here," the perpetually cheerful Bowman said.
He was right as usual.