Weather follows patterns, fronts flowing in from the west at various pseeds to change the nature of the places they pass. When a stormy low swings through Washington it leaves behind a vacuum; cool air from the north pounds down to fill the hole behind the low and a classic, sparkling high pressure system develops.
On the Chesapeake ybay, sailors gleefully await the first day of a high for the 24 hours of ripping northwest winds that generally accompany it. They can bury the lee rail and watch the suds scudding past.
Bay fishermen build their dreams around conditions a day or two later -- the so-called "middle of the high" when the winds moderate the still afternnons seem to go on forever.
"Think of the weather like the ocean," said Bill Miller, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service forecast office in Camp Springs. "It's a series of waves and troughs, high pressure followed by low, high and then low. This time of year it's almost continuous."
Spring and fall, when one front after another churns through, are also the best seasons for fishing on the bay. Hitting the middle of the high -- the crest of the fair-weather wave -- during either season provides the best chance there is for a memorable fishing day.
This I told to Bob Mannino, who knows it anyway, having spent all his years around New England waters where, if you don't pay attention to wind, tides and weather, they find little pieces of your boat six months later washed up on islands with names like Monomoy and Cuttyhunk.
"The front will pass through Wednesday, it's blow Thursday when you get here and on Friday we'll go out and sink the boat with bluefish."
Great plan, except if the front never moves.
"It's called a stall," said Miller, and it can go on as long as it wants.The cause is the difference between land and ocean temperature. When the front reaches the coast it hangs around until the difference between the temperatures it built up over land and those of the cooler water even out; then it marches off eastward again.
What it meant was that the storm front arrived Wednesday on schedule and stuck around Thursday, Friday and Saturday, by which time Mannino's woebegone look was communicating the information that he had not traveled 400 miles to drink one more beer in Georgetown.
We trundled off to the bay, with the boat in tow, saying; "Hang the weather."
The seas were crsting at about three feet but under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, where countercurrents evidently meet, it was reminiscent of a Winslow Homer painting with a name like "The Maelstrom."
We plunged south and the seas subsided some. Spray occasionally crashed over the bow and now it was raining. Lovely.
We put out three trolling lines and worked south along the channel edge at Brickhouse Bar. After three miles, nothing. We turned north again, the wind in our faces and the spray constant. Nothing.
An hour later, nothing. Another hour, nothing. "Frankly, Bob, I think we picked the wrong day," I said. "Let's head in."
While he kept the boat straight, I reeled in one trolling rig, then another. I had coiled up the leader from the second rig and was reaching for the last rod when it tip did a sudden busy dance and wire line screeched off the reel. Fish on!
It was a 9 1/2-pounder, to be followed an hour later (after all the lures were back in the water) by a 10 1/2-pounder, Mannino's first Chesapeake blue, which made our day a success.
That night the front finally pushed through and the anticipated howling northwester developed. We went home wearing smiles.
Three days later, when the middle of the high finally developed long after Mannino was safety home in Boston, Jay Sheppard and I whiled away a lazy afternoon in the shallows off Hackett's Point near Annapolis, working popping lures on the surface in three to five feet of water.
Five times giant blues attacked the lures in the fading daylight, and two of them came to the gaff. Those fish weighed 11 and 12 1/2 pounds.
Which goes to show that if you just wait for the middle of the high, the way you're supposed to, you could end up with 3 1/2 pounds more fish.
Big bluefish are well into the Chesapeake and are striking the offerings of trollers, plug-casters and chummers from the mouth of the Bay north to above the Bay Bridge.
Rollers are having success in the midbay areas most easily accessible to Washington. Favored lures are spoons and bucktails fished 20 to 30 feet down in water 30 to 50 feet deep.
The big blues also are in shoal areas in the midbay, such as Hackett's Bar, just south of the Bay Bridge, where they take surface plugs in the evening. And the chum boats at the mouth of the Potomac River already are bringing in big blues by the wheelbarrow load, according to Bruce Scheible of Scheible's Fishing Center in Ridge, Md.