The word among Maryland watermen is, "Time and tide waits for neither man."

Evidently, those watermen have never been to Lake Gaston on the Virginia-North Carolina line, where tide waits for man almost every day.

It waits for the world to wake and start demanding electricity to run its powered toothbrushes, juice squeezers and coffee makers.

Just before dawn most days, the workers at the dam that feeds Gaston push some buttons and turn some dials to let water start flowing in from John Kerr Reservoir, above Gaston.

The water turns turbines to make the electricity and it also creates a roiling, tumbling, swirling wash for several hundred feet below the dam.

"I took one look at that whitewater and the eddies around it," said a Washington area fisherman, "and all I could think of was rockfish."

When the gates were first closed on Kerr and Gaston years ago they locked in striped bass that had come upriver to spawn. With some natural reproduction and some stocking by the state, the stripers, or rockfish, have taken firm hold in these big lakes, even though their natural habitat is the ocean and estuaries.

In spring and fall, stripers feed with great abandon. In Gaston, they feed particularly around the Kerr dam. When the outflow comes pouring through the gates, all kinds of baitfish come pouring through, too, like silver on the water. The stripers wait on the edges to gobble the bait up.

Fishermen line the banks near the power station with surf rods. But our little cadre of four Washingtonians had a better idea -- take boats up and get right in there with the fish. We could find nothing in fishing regulations to indicate we couldn't.

We almost got too close -- to swimming status -- and it wasn't until the wardens waved us out that we discovered that these waters were considered unsafe for boat traffic, and fishing isn't permitted within 600 feet of the dam. The ban is contained in boating regulations. We'd been looking in the wrong rule book.

"Yep, that's the way it usually is," said Jack Hoffman, chief of the Virginia Fish Division. "The best places to fish are where you can't fish. vI hope you didn't get a ticket."

No ticket, but the scare of the week and a dozen stripers from three to 10 pounds to show for the two hours of fishing before the authorities showed up.

"He just got down in the bottom of the boat and hid his head," said Jay Cleiman of his partner, Glenn Peacock. "I hit the throttle and prayed."

Water rips from the outfall at a rate of about 600 gadzillion gallons per second. Cleiman has a fiberglass bass boat, reasonably seaworthy. We followed him up in an aluminum boat about half the weight. I buried my head, too, and made a few quick amends.

"We're not the first," said Cleiman after we were settled in eddy and pitching white bucktails into the current. He pointed up at powerlines high overhead, each wrapped with old bucktails from predecessors who had made the same dangerous trip upstream.

Bang. Fish on. A seven-pound striper took a bucktail, ran into the current until it was exhausted and we had our first fish of the day.

The sun hadn't crested the monolithic concrete wall of the spillway behind us before we had three fish in, and the fishing hadn't really lit up yet. At 8 a.m., the water level began dropping, apparently because the gates at Gaston dam 15 miles downstream were being opened.

"This is when it gets good," said Cleiman. "Now the current really starts to run."

It is also, however, when the workers show up at the dam.

"Hey," someone yelled from the shore. "Get outta there."

So we did, with some chagrin.

Cleiman and Peacock had fished the day before for an hour and a half, unmolested, but left when the water dropped to dangerously low levels. We added the five fish from our short day to the seven they caught the day before. In all, it made for a catchbox full of stripers.

Striper fishing was tougher on the remainder of the lake, but this is high season for rockfish in Gaston and Kerr and many fish were boated in the creeks and upper stretches of Gaston and back in the creeks at Kerr.

Hoffman backs the ban on boaters zooming up the tricky stretch to Kerr dam, but agrees that it's a little unfair to well-equipped, serious anglers. "They're a hardy bunch," he said, "and they can handle themselves. But the general public is significantly different from dedicated fishermen. They show up in overloaded canoes and john boats, and we'd be bound to have accidents."

He recommends fishing from shore by the power dam, but pointed out that long surf rods are needed to reach the good fishing spots.

Mornings are best -- that's when the tide runs swiftest. And time and tide as the fellow said, wait for neither man.