The note on the refrigerator said, "Tehaan called." Literally translated that meant "spring is here."
Dicky Tehaan is the wizard of the Potomac. When he calls, pack your tackle, find some minnows and set the clock for early. It's time to go fishing.
Every day that he can Tehaan hikes from his house in Palisades down to the river to record water temperature. Last week the sun came out and in one day the reading jumped from 37 degrees to 41. That's when the note went up on the fridge.
Sudden rises in water temperature turn fish on in the spring. They've spent the winter languishing in near-dormancy. The warmth triggers the instinct to live again -- to eat and spawn and move around.
"Just like people," said Joe Fletcher, who rents out the rowboats that carry Tehaan and hundreds like him to the good fishing holes in Washington's river. "On a cold day you don't see anybody here. The first warm day and they'll be buzzing around like flies. Fish are the same way."
The courting dance is on in the river. Tehaan and I caught a few crappies and bass Tuesday morning. Then my bobber plunged with authority.
I lifted the rod tip and felt the wriggle of fish. At the surface it showed in colorful garb, not a crappie or bass at all but a brilliantly marked yellow perch.
A small one.I was unhooking it to turn it loose when a stream of yellow jelly squished out on my arm.
"This fish is spawning," I told Tehaan, who looked up in delight.
"Good," said Tehaan. "Now I can write in my book that yellow perch spawn at about 41 degrees."
Tehaan's book started inauspiciously a decade ago when he thought it would be helpful to record his catches so he'd know what to look for in years ahead. "At first I just put down the numbers," he said. "Then I started writing little descriptions of each day."
The book is now in volumes -- spiral notebooks on top of spiral notebooks, the catches and the events of the day recorded in a rainbow of different colored ink.
Last year, the book says, Tehaan caught 184 striped bass in Washington. That's right, 184, the biggest 10 pounds. He cuaght a 5 1/4-pound smallmouth bass near Chain Bridge and a 4 1/2-pound largemouth downriver. The book reports there were 35 days of flood between March 18 and May 7 last year, a bad spring for fishing. The first white perch of the year was caught March 25.
The book doesn't lie.
Neither does Tehaan, who in this Washington sea of striving fools is a young man who simply does what he likes to do.
He works weekends and one weekday in the booth of the parking lot at Sibley Hospital. In the winter he spends his spare moments in the booth tying flies and painting lures and making the "Dicky darts" with which he catches almost every species in the river.
The rest of the time he fishes the Potomac.
His base of operations is Fletcher's Boathouse. He doesn't need a fishing license there, and almost never fishes anywhere else. He won't go saltwater fishing because he gets seasick. He doesn't have a car to entice him to faraway places in Maryland and Virginia.
Just a bicycle to get him to work and the river, which is all he needs.
Fishing for six hours on Tuesday Tehaan and I boated two dozen crappies, of which 18 were fat Potomac keepers, at least eight inches long. We caught 16 largemouth bass, all too small to keep, a dozen bluegills and the lone yellow perch.
The following day the first white perch of the season were caught by two gentlemen named Bethea and Malone. That signals the arrival in Washington of hordes of spawning fish coming up from the Chesapeake and the ocean. Shad, herring and striped bass will follow.
"This place really is unique," said Tehaan as we walked back from our day on the sparkling river. "You get the resident fish like largemouth and smallmouth bass, bluegills, catfish, carp and crappies, plus you have the spawners coming up all spring."
They all meet where the river narrows and runs fast in Washington's back yard. And now begins the time to catch them.