Much is made of fisherman's luck by persons who don't really understand the sport.
It's been my experience that really good fisherman know only one kind of luck -- bad. They make great sacrifices to be at the right spot at the right time, fishing the right baits for a species known to be thick and willing to bite. But the weather or the tide or the fickleness of the prey undermines the effort.
This is a time of year, though, when one kind of fishing depends utterly on plain, dumb luck. And, surprisingly, sometimes the luck evan falls the fisherman's way.
The subject here is topwater plugging for breaking bluefish, one of the more exciting and most unpredictable of angling exercises.
"There's absolutely no way of predicting where breaking blues are going to be one day or the next," said Charlie Ebserberger of Angler's Tackle Shop on the western side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
"It gets me in a lot of trouble. People ask me where they are and I tell'em, 'So and so caught 50 yesterday at such and such a place.'
"They go out and don't see a thing. It was true, but they'll never believe it. Those fish might be 20 miles away."
Topwater plugging for blues is exciting because it's as close to hunting as it is to fishing. It has all the quiet drama of fishing, plus the visual thrill of stalking and ambushing the blues and observing the strike, which can leave your heart in your mouth.
A couple of weeks ago I called Angler's to ask if any blues were breaking near Hacket Point, a mile below the bay bridge on the western shore. The fellows there said they had't heard of anything lately, but it was always worth a shot to poke around in a boat just before dusk, when the blues are most likely to be breaking the surface chasing alewives.
Off we went, Dave Hoffman, Jay Cleiman and I, with Cleiman's 15 - foot bass boat in tow through the rush - hour Beltway crowds.
It was still and calm when we launched at the 24-hour-a-day ramp at Sandy Point State Park. The run down the shallow bar off Hackett Point was swift, and in 10 minutes we were flinging topwater "chuggers" or "poppers" and reeling them noisily back to the boat.
We cruised slowly among the crab pot markers that jam the bar, looking for a telltake swirl that would indicate bluefish feeding below. An article in the June Field and Stream indicated blues were common on Hackett Bar in early summer in three to six feet of water. But we had no luck casting blind among the pots.
The sun began to sink over Annapolis and it looked like a washout. Then Cleiman heard a strange wooshing sound from the deeper water offshore.
"Woosh." It came again.
Cleiman jerked his head around in time to see that one. It was a pod of alewives, small bait fish, leaping clear of the water and sending up a spray of water.
"They're not jumping like that for fun," Cleiman said. "I bet there's a big bluefish under 'em."
Using his electric trolling motor he eased the bass boat out beyond the crab pot markers, to where the water dropped off to 18 feet.
"Whooosh." Another circle of alewives, 15 feet across. This time a bluefish came bounding out of the water right behind.
I cast a chugging lure -- a cigar - sized cylinder with the forward end scooped out -- across the ripples left by the fleeing alewives.
One the retrieve I jerked it rhythmically, sending a spray of water out each time it chugged.
Twenty feet from the boat the water around the blug exploded into a noisy boil. The back of a bluefish broke the surface. I jerked back and felt the tug of a blue on the line. It was a six-pounder, and it put up a fine fight and made one stirring leap against the 10 - pound -test line.
Hoffman cast over another pod of braking alewives and had a bluefish smash at his lure, but couldn't get a hookup. A third blue smashed Cleiman's small popping plug. He hooked the fish, which was larger than the first one, but lost it when it snapped the line at the boat.
It went on that way for about an hour, until the sun sank fiery orange. The action was never constant, and we had to ease from place to place with the little electric motor when we saw the leaping alewives moving off.
Through a series of foulups we managed to boat only three blues, though we probably had 15 good chances. The memory of those violent strikes, of the sounds of the fleeing alewives in the quiet evening, of the thrill of watching bluefish in a feeding frenzy driving bait clear out of the water, made this adventure a much greater success than numbers can tell.
I called the fellows at Anglers to tell them the good news.
"Lucky," they said. "You were just plain lucky."
June and early July are good times to finding breaking blues all around the bay. But in late July the picking can get slim in the middle of the bay, which is most easily accessible to Washingtontonians.
The folks of Angler's claim the best success lately has been had in the evenings around the Gum Thickets at the southern end of Kent Island, below the bay bridge on the Eastern Shore.
Evening hours are best. Assuming there is no storm, the water seems to quiet for an hour or so before sundown and that's when the blues often start to break.
Popular lures are Atom plugs and other poppers, the louder and more gaudy the better, and Hopkins spoons worked fast along the surface. Silence is important. A noisy engine can drive a breaking school down.
It's hit or miss, but worth the wait for a hit.