Draw a line due east of Washington and you won't quite bisect Lewes, but it'll be close enough to assure that this old town offers the Nation's Capital its closest oceanfront destination.

By carefully picking time and day of departure and driving only slightly over posted speeds you can make it to Lewes (it's Lew-is, not Lou's) in 2 1/2 hours from downtown. If that's good time to the ocean, it's doubly good for anglers, who are rewarded with some of the better saltwater fishing in the region.

"The advantage we have is that we're right at the mouth of Delaware Bay, so we have two kinds of water to fish in," said Olda Parsons, who does the bookings for the five-boat Parsons charter fishing fleet.

The 354-year-old town and harbor lie just under the protective arm of Cape Henlopen, so when the Parsons boats and others that tie up here clear the jetty, the captains can go east and fish the ocean or northwest and fish the bay.

Last week on a mild and sunwashed day, the ocean offered the only game -- schools of sleek mackerel making their way north to the summer feeding grounds off New England.

April is the mid-Atlantic's once-a-year shot at mackerel. "Usually we get about three weeks," said Capt. Rick Yakimowicz aboard the Thelma Dale, which was carrying 26 hard-core fishermen 18 miles offshore for a bonanza day on the mackerel beat.

Happily for Lewes, good things follow the mack attack, which could be over as early as this weekend. In mid-May, the mouth of Delaware Bay boasts excellent fishing for sea trout up to 10 and 12 pounds. That's followed in June by similar-sized bluefish, which provide what sounds like delightful light-tackle mayhem for night fishermen.

Summer flounder fishing picks up in July and August, according to Parsons, and schools of smaller sea trout arrive in the early fall. Whenever one of these runs is slow arriving, the headboats and charter boats head for one of the 100-plus shipwrecks in the region, which harbor black sea bass, tautog, ling and porgies.

So there are fish to catch. Despite Delaware Bay's unfortunate upstream brush with stinky Wilmington, the waters at the mouth remain clear and fertile.

What is further appealing about Lewes is the rough-and-tumble, no-frills character of its fleet, which seems more attuned to the needs of meat fishermen from Baltimore and Central Pennsylvania than to servicing tourists seeking a boat ride.

Some examples: A well-designed, shaded fish-cleaning station with running water at the Parsons dock, something you won't find at Ocean City; low prices for decent tackle on the boats, in case you lose your rigs; competent, cheerful mates on the head boats; and folks like Olda Parsons' husband Dale, a veteran skipper, who will tell you by phone if the fish aren't biting, saving you a trip for nothing.

If there is a disadvantage to fishing with the Parsons, it's their proclivity for late starts. "We used to run a pool on what date the 7 o'clock boat would actually leave at 7," said Parsons mate P.J. Robertson. Evidently no one ever won.

Mornings at the Parsons dock always are exciting as Dale Parsons scrambles around trying to figure out what crews have failed to show and what boats won't start. But eventually he gets everyone out, and if the start is late he makes up by working hard to locate fish and adding on time in the afternoon.

That was fortunate last week, when the mackerel were reluctant to bite all morning. It was beginning to look like a mediocre day, perhaps 10 or 15 fish per angler. But as afternoon wore on, regular customer Henry Diener of Reading, Pa., relayed the information that the best catches had been coming late. "We ought to hit them now," he said.

He wins prognosticator -of-the-day award, because on the very next drift just about every rod on Thelma Dale went down with a vengeance, and in moments shiny mackerel were being hauled in four and five at a time.

"Love that sound," said the angler next to me as the flailing fish beat a drumbeat on the weathered deck.

And the happy sound continued until all aboard had their fill.