We will dispense with the cutesy opening paragraph to bring you instead this public service announcement:
The Mack Attack has arrived.
"We've caught 80 pounds of fish already," said Jim Boyd, a Washington builder, half-crazed with fishing frenzy, on a head boat in the Atlantic Friday morning, hot on the trail of Boston mackerel. "A few minutes ago we had five fish hooked on two tangled lines. It looked like a cascade of silver."
Phones began ringing last Wednesday. The annual April run of the green and silver mackerel up the Atlantic coast had reached the Maryland coast. By Friday, the 65-foot charter boats that leave each morning from Ocean City and Lewes, Del., were packed with saltwater anglers from four states who had paid $20 and driven all night to get there. Some had called in sick to work. Others had taken a day of annual leave. All had life's priorities in order.
"Haven't you ever heard of a mental health day?" asked Tom Shiner, 31, a Washington architect who was sharing the Angler with 35 others, among them unemployed construction workers, retired military officers, college students on spring break and one small boy who caught enough fish to feed Prince George's County for a week.
"He is descended from fishermen," explained Evangelos Kalis, the son of a son of a Greek fisherman and the father of 8-year-old George, who may never again in his life be as celebrated as he was this foggy day.
"That kid has caught 12 fish since you or I have had a bite," said Dennis Diamond, a Silver Spring contractor, as we watched George, wearing a tweed cap and rubber boots to match his father's, hoist three mackerel at a time from the Atlantic.
For saltwater fishers, the mackerel run is the opening of the fishing year. During the last month, they have had to endure stories from freshwater fiends about yellow perch and rainbow trout. With the mackerel run, winter's cruel dominance is broken. Bluefish, sea bass, sea trout and, if there is an angling God in heaven, maybe a few big rockfish, will follow.
Mackerel taste wonderful and look, as one fisherman noted, like "Christmas ornaments" when they are pulled to the surface. But what makes them especially beloved is their tendency to run in thick schools and attack lures with a vengeance. If your boat finds mackerel, the mackerel will find your hooks.
"We've been on head boats before, but nothing like this," said Regis Shiner, who grew arm weary catching fish beside his grown son Tom.
The Angler left its dock at 7 a.m. for an hour ride to the mackerel grounds, 11 miles offshore. During the ride fishermen played cards, napped inside a protected cabin or talked to one another with the kind of unself-conscious intimacy normally reserved for old friends.
Evangelos Kalis, who emigrated to the United States from Macedonia in 1946, told a fishing story with Mediterranean fervor and an accent still thick as Zorba's.
"Spanish mackerel are my favorite. You catch them in Florida. I remember once the water had so many mackerel and sharks, when you pulled up a mackerel you only got the head. There was blood everywhere. It was beautiful. I'd like to see that again."
Kalis caught the first two mackerel, minutes after the boat stopped. Before the day was over, he and his son would fill a 25-gallon plastic trash can just inches below the top with mackerel and small sand sharks.
"Are sharks good to eat?" asked one angler.
"That depends on whether your wife cooks it or your mother-in-law," answered Monty Hawkins, the 22-year-old mate who spent his day untangling lines, unhooking sharks and keeping everyone informed that young George was outfishing the whole boatload of old salts.
For 20 minutes at a time, we would catch mackerel. Then they would disappear. Capt. Daniel Tilghman, 23, a descendant of one of the Chesapeake Bay's first families, then would start up the engines and take us to a new place to ambush the fish.
"They don't show up on the (fish) recorder because they're so damn fast," said Tilghman. "They only stop to eat."
For the next two weeks, they should be feeding close enough for local anglers with a taste for mayhem.