The first fish story of the year award is hereby presented to Murat Gezen, a 13-year-old who pulled his chicken-livered line from the spray and thunder below Great Falls last weekend just long enough to tell it.
"It was a carp about that big," said Gezen, stretching his arms as wide as his balance on a boulder would allow, which was considerably wider than his best friend Mike Meiners was prepared to follow. "No, really, it got right to the surface and then it broke my hook."
There is nothing quite so warm as the heated telling of tall tales in spring. After a winter of homebound rehearsal, anglers spend their first spring days on local rivers raising a cloud of steam thick enough to get lost in.
This year, or so it seems after the last few weeks of unseasonably sensational weather, it appears that spring will open its annual run a month early. Folks who got cross-country skis for Christmas won't like that. Most everyone else is grateful for the unexpected gift.
"Yesterday, I just about exploded at work," said Sharon Diener, who spent Friday typing insurance forms in a windowless office in Bethesda, trying to forget that she was missing an 80-degree day in March. Saturday she went early to Great Falls Park in Virginia to hike trails above the Potomac with a dog that looked like a cross between a Great Dane and a garbage truck.
"You can pet him," she said, holding Bluto by a choke collar with both hands. "But don't make any fast movements near his mouth."
Saturday it seemed the entire metropolitan area got a shot of adrenaline. Bicyclists, joggers and hikers resumed their low-key battle for right of way on the C&O towpath and a hundred other trails. Anglers returned to familiar rocks beside the Potomac. And Susan Cress, a ninth-grader from nearby Vienna, rode her first, very own horse, bought for her by parents just two days earlier.
"His name is Willie," Cress said, looking blissed-out after a 15-mile ride to Great Falls on the brown and white appaloosa.
At Great Falls, it looked like a summer weekend in a winter wood. Teen-agers tossed Frisbees and footballs past families having picnics on soggy ground. The sun was shining and it was 60 degrees.
"This is a baking hot summer in England," said Sheila Cowan, who was part of a British embassy contingent that seemed to be the biggest, best-organized group of picnickers in the park.
"We've got 16 adults, eight kids, a volleyball net and some bicycles," said Sheila's husband Andrew, who began calling the group at 8:30 a.m. By 1 p.m., all were beaming except 5-week-old Stephanie Cremin.
"She had a problem with her steak," joked Trixie Mitchell.
A few yards away, a more primitive cookout was under way. Half a dozen Madison High School friends stood over a pitiful fire of trash and twigs trying to cook hot dogs.
"You want to know how to burn a hot dog?" began Pat Callahan, who was chewing on a wiener that was charred on the outside but still pink within. "Start with a stick, a hot dog and a can of cold Budweiser."
Weather experts say this winter's early melt was caused by a climatic caprice that involved equatorial trade winds and South American waters. That upheaval brought drought to Australia, storms to the California coast and unusually temperate weather to our area.
And all this after the numbing blizzard here a few weeks ago.
For Murat Gezen, his 11-year-old brother Firat and their friend Mike Meiners, it was the first day of fishing since fall. They clambered down a steep pile of stones to the Potomac like kids on an Easter egg hunt. But once by the river, they slowed to steady, rhythmic casting.
"The fish come into this pool to rest," said Murat Gezen, who kept snagging his hook on bottom rocks. Meiners was using a bobber to prevent that. But the bobber kept his chicken livers too much above the bottom where the catfish, bass and carp might be. "It doesn't really matter if we catch any," said Murat, trying out his first, coming-home-without-fish excuse of the year. "It's just fun to be out here."