I needed a fix.
It happens. You get involved in some complicated job, working the phones, using your brain too much. One day you look at your hands and they quiver a little, or is it your imagination?
"Look, Dick," I told Blalock on the phone, "I need a fix and I need it bad. I don't want to go out on the bay and buck the wind and fight some 12-pound bluefish on wire line. Rambo I ain't. I don't want to go to the river and fool around with white water. I don't need adventure. I don't want a challenge. I don't feel like driving anywhere. I just want a fix."
"Well," said Blalock, "you know George Middendorf, who teaches at Howard? He and I were up at Triadelphia Reservoir the other day and caught 40 beautiful bluegills on poppers in about three hours. These were big as your hand, I mean not just as long as your hand, but thick as your hand, as well."
He offered to show me the hot spot, and I told him to put the boat on the roof because I was on my way.
It is a testimony to the incredible variety of outdoor opportunity around Washington that a guy can be sitting in Silver Spring in the heat of midweek traffic and 25 minutes later be launching a canoe in a sparkling lake along whose banks there is hardly a hint of human intrusion.
"Coon dog pups, $50," said a sign at the turnoff to the lake.
The counter girls at the Sunshine Store in Sunshine, Md., were watching "The Young and the Listless," or some such trash. The lady at the lunch counter fixed a couple of hoagies and told us about a regular customer who was raking in the fish. "Mr. Lee, he fills up a five-gallon bucket every time he goes," she said. "Bluegills, crappies, some bass. But he doesn't really fish for bass. They're just, you know, a bonus."
One of the counter girls took the money, including my $2 for a day permit to fish Triadelphia, and we were off.
But fishing isn't like a drink or a drug. You don't just take a puff or a shot and boom, you're cured. It takes a while.
Blalock guided the canoe down the reservoir with his electric trolling motor and I stretched out in the bow, watching a world of green glide silently by, accented by pockets of pink flowering mountain laurel. Some fishermen near the ramp occupied the only boat we would see for hours.
Blalock turned into a cove and sidled up to a stick poking out of the water. "Behind the stick," he said, "the bottom is kind of tan-colored, and you should be able to see some round depressions, like potholes. That's the beds, where the bluegills are getting ready to spawn."
We rigged slender graphite rods, eight feet long, with fly line tapering down to a tippet as fine as the finest human hair, at the end of which we tied cork poppers no bigger than a pencil eraser.
The tendency in fishing a popper is to chug it along the surface to excite a strike, but with bluegills it's often better to simply toss it out and wait a while. On the second cast, a bluegill came up and nosed my popper, hovering quizzically just below it, but wouldn't take. When I twitched it, the fish went back down.
But on the next cast the cork lit on the water and a bluegill slurped it up immediately. The rod bent when I struck. It was a fat little fish, big as your hand by length and breadth.
We didn't catch 40, but it was pretty easy. In three or four hours, moving from cove to cove, we had a dozen and a half keeper bluegills, a few crappies and one nice smallmouth bass.
I don't know how long it took to calm down. You lose track of time. For the first couple hours my mind still wandered. I'd find myself worrying about the VW muffler or work or the kids.
Slowly, inexorably, the fishing takes over. You cast more smoothly, more accurately, reading the water for the places fish might lurk; the fly becomes an extension of you, and your aspirations grow so narrowly focused that nothing matters beyond its placement, the tautness of line, the readiness to strike.
We got back to the ramp around 8 p.m., as it grew dark.
"I think fishing must be like opium," Blalock said. "You feel good all over."
I think so, too.
One of the principal appeals of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission's Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge reservoirs in suburban Maryland is the no-gas-motor rule, which means no yahoos in hot-rod bass boats assaulting your eyes and ears. In an afternoon, we saw, instead, Canada geese and some fat mallards swimming around, and a whitetail doe feeding in tall grass.
To fish or go boating on the reservoirs you need a $2 day-use or $25 season pass, available at many stores, including the Sunshine Store in Sunshine, Md., Rockville Trading Post, Beltsville Sport Center and a couple dozen other spots, or at WSSC headquarters in Hyattsville or the regional office at Brighton Dam. The lakes reportedly get crowded on weekends, but during the week the place is pure magic.