Anyone who spends time outdoors knows the men of Lancaster County, Pa., a nomadic band of anglers who go wherever the fish bite. Commonly found along the mid-Atlantic coast from New Jersey to North Carolina, Lancaster men are occasionally sighted as far south as Florida, fishing for grunts and snappers in the dead of winter.
In the wild, you can recognize them by their aluminum boats and camouflage turkey-hunting caps, which they wear year-round. For positive confirmation, look for a can of Schmidt's beer.
These are direct descendants of the great fishermen of colonial times. Reportedly, the name "Langcaster" stems from their legendary proficiency at the rod; their forefathers were the fabled "long-casters" of southeastern Pennsylvania.
These men are fearless and will go anywhere in pursuit of small fish. When mackerel are running in the Atlantic off Ocean City each April, for example, I always keep an eye peeled for a Lancaster man in an aluminum 14-footer, trolling alone through the frigid ocean swells 20 miles out to sea, sipping a Schmidt's.
Word evidently spread in Lancaster County last week that flounder had begun biting in earnest in the marshy sloughs and backwaters behind Chincoteague.
The report turned out to be premature, but Lancaster men know their food and love nothing better than flaky, white, sweet flounder meat. They immediately formed a caravan of vehicles, each towing an aluminum boat, for a Chincoteague foray. By 7 a.m. Saturday the waters here were jammed with folks eager to catch flounder, and scattered in the crowd were little aluminum boats full of robust, red-faced men in turkey-hunting hats.
The scene at Capt. Bob Pohlmeyer's boat and bait shop was frenetic.
Pohlmeyer, who hadn't expected the early rush, had only about half his 100 rental boats in the water, and was dashing about in a rusty old truck, loading boats on trailers and dumping them in the water, while the men of Lancaster shouted out orders for minnows, their bait of choice for all species.
The waters around Chincoteague, from the drawbridge in town clear out to the ocean inlet four miles away, were busy all morning, but was anyone catching anything?
"You'd think with a day like this you'd have something to show for it," said an elderly man in an aluminum boat as he and his partner each jigged two rods. They had nothing.
It was beautiful all right, sunny and mild, but the fishing was wretched. Pohlmeyer reported he'd weighed-in "four flounders over six pounds in the last 24 hours," but a look at the flotilla of boats told even the most optimistic angler the odds were slim.
When the odds get slim, Lancaster men get going. You'd see them moving around, place to place, searching for fish in their little aluminum boats. That evening the gloom at the fish-cleaning station finally was broken when three fellows from Lancaster came struggling in with a cooler laden with black sea bass.
"They're in the inlet," they said, "we were catching 'em on every drift."
On Sunday, the channels around town were far less crowded, most folks having given up, but the inlet where Chincoteague Bay meets the sea was alive with Lancaster men. The little black bass, smaller and even more delectable than flounder, were balled up on the bottom in 25 feet of water just off the sandy south end of Assateague National Wildlife Refuge.
It was squid they wanted, pure white strips of it, on tiny hooks and held on the bottom with three ounces of lead.
Then it was a just a matter of falling into the Lancaster drift, sidling up alongside one of the aluminum boats, dropping bait and weight overboard and riding along on the rushing tide until the insistent taps of fish below said you'd found the school, again.
It was pure pleasure, Lancaster County style.
Pohlmeyer said flounder should arrive in strength any day at Chincoteague, the little town 40 miles below Ocean City that fancies itself the flounder capital of the world.
"We're waiting for it to happen," he said, "but right now they're few and scarce and far apart. It's water temperature, I believe. You need warm nights to warm the water up, and I'm still sleeping with a blanket on and the door closed."
Capt. Bob's is one of several places in town where rental skiffs are available, with outboards, for about $35 a day. That's plenty of boat to take you to the fish, once the fish get here. If in doubt about exactly where to go, look around for a camouflage hat and an aluminum boat, and follow that man.