Tom Rodgers was snoozing in his battered camper-pickup on the state park causeway Thursday when a riot of buzzers and flashers startled him awake.
"That's how I caught this," said Rodgers, grinning and hoisting a monstrous bluefish of about 15 pounds.
Rodgers' early bluefish-attack warning device is a Rube Goldberg-style gadget hooked to a rod holder mounted on the side of the truck. "When a fish bites it pulls the rod down," he said. "That pushes in the plunger here, which connects to the electrics. That sets the buzzer off and a light inside the truck starts flashing. I don't even have to watch my rods. I just wake up and reel him in.
"I have a tape recorder I can connect up, too. It says, 'You got a bite! You got a bite!' But I can't get it to cut off. It just keeps going, so I had to disconnect it."
Rodgers is considering reviving his favorite fishing gadget, a mannequin into which he installed a remote speaker a few years ago. He put the mannequin in a beach chair on the causeway, where surfcasters park and fish all day and night, and stuck a rod in its hand.
"People would come by and say, 'How's it going?' I'd be sitting in the truck with the microphone saying, 'What's it to you, you big jerk?'
"They didn't know what to think, getting cussed out by a dummy."
Rodgers, a retired bricklayer from Annapolis, is the perfect sort of fellow to fish off the Point Lookout causeway, where fishing is mostly waiting but the rewards are sometimes worth it. He arranges plenty of diversions and gives himself plenty of time, and every once in a while a jag of blues or trout shoots by and he gets a few.
He uses huge, 15-foot-long surf rods to get his bait over the sand bar into deep water, and over 17 years of fishing here he's developed special techniques for rigging, casting, night fishing and preparing baits. "He knows all the tricks," said Ronnie Rice of New Carrollton, who was fishing close by, "and he's happy to help you."
As if on cue, Rodgers came dashing over to where Rice and I were chatting in the gathering dusk and demanded to know if I'd brought along a rod.
He insisted on rigging it up, prepared a fresh bait and threaded it on the hook, handed me a cold beer and plunked my rod into the buzzer-holder. There we stayed, watching the Point No Point lighthouse winking through the dark and a sliver of moon slipping in and out of the clouds, until the wind came up and we called it quits. Never got a hit.
Surf fishing of the sort Rice and Rodgers and a couple dozen others were enjoying Thursday night would get a boost under plans being considered by Maryland's Department of Natural Resources.
DNR, looking for ways to spend some funds generated by the $5 Chesapeake Bay fishing license it instituted this year, is studying Point Lookout, Solomons Island, Sandy Point near the Bay Bridge, Elk Neck State Park and Rock Hall as sites for fishing piers. Already in the works is a plan to convert the Rte. 50 Choptank River bridge into a 3,000-foot fishing pier when a parallel span is completed.
Rodgers likes DNR's idea for a 400-foot wooden pier off the Point Lookout causeway. "Even if they charged a dollar or two, it'd be worth it," he said. "You could get out to the deeper water and you'd have room for a lot more people. It gets bad down here on weekends."
If it's bad now, it will get worse when word gets out that, after a slow spring, bluefish apparently have invaded the bay in earnest.
"We've had big schools breaking here every evening," said Bruce Scheible, whose fleet of charter boats works the waters off Point Lookout.
"Some of the boats out of Chesapeake Beach had over 100 blues a day," said Mike Sullivan, head of the Maryland Charter Boat Operators Association. Sullivan said the two- to five-pound blues, which have been just about impossible to find in midbay, finally moved north of Solomons Island and should be up to the Bay Bridge by another week or two.
Sullivan said the best catches have been taken by trollers fishing surgical eels near the surface in the main channel from Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant south to Point Lookout. Good catches of sea trout also have been recorded by anglers trolling bucktails in the same area, he said, but trout require deeper-running lures.
Sullivan said big schools of blues have been breaking the surface as they chase bait in the same region. That means they can be caught on topwater lures, which is about as exciting as bay fishing gets, unless you hook buzzers and lights to your rod.