POINT LOOKOUT, MD. -- The hot, dry summer is giving watermen fits as the lethal salt-water parasite MSX invades oyster beds as far north as the mid-Chesapeake. Oyster lovers can expect a miserable winter, but every dark cloud has a little sunshine behind it. In this case the happy beneficiaries of an unusually salty Bay are flounder fishermen.
"I can just about guarantee we'll catch a dozen good ones if we give it a try," said Bill Brener. He was flushed with success after picking up several flounder recently on his way in from the bluefish grounds at the mouth of the Potomac River.
Most people who fish the Bay don't suspect it, but a few summer flounder, or fluke as they are known in the north, regularly slip in from the ocean to visit the Chesapeake in the hot months. But they rarely come in numbers sufficient to make chasing them worthwhile, and if you don't chase 'em, chances are you won't catch 'em.
But an unusually dry summer like this changes the odds, and, for the last several weeks, Bay bottom fishermen near the lower Potomac and Patuxent rivers all the way north to near Annapolis have felt the hard and unexpected tug of a flounder on the line.
Harley Speir, a Maryland state fisheries biologist, said the phenomenon relates strictly to the unusually high salinity in the Bay. That also explains this year's strong crop of stinging jellyfish, which also prosper in salty water.
Whatever the reason, the flounder are here, which is cause for celebration among those who delight in the pure, sweet taste of their snow-white meat and the gentle pleasures of drift-fishing.
And Brener, who as a youngster in Atlantic City made a hero of a man who called himself "the duke of fluke," is among those celebrating. "Let's see," he said, "we can meet about 9:30 in the morning. That's a nice, civilized hour. No need to get up early for flounder."
So after a stop at the Tackle Box in Lexington Park for a bucketful of live minnows, Brener, his wife Linda and I motored out of Smith Creek for the short run to Point Lookout, where the Potomac meets the Bay. It was one of those perfect August days that presage the glories of fall, with Tropical Storm Arlene sending cool, northeast winds along under a high sky of harmless clouds and air so clear you could see, it seemed, forever.
A few boats already were working the point, including two or three small rental skiffs from Point Lookout State Park. Even on a breezy day the water was relatively calm behind the sandy spit of Point Lookout, though on the Bay side whitecaps were breaking and the mast of a sailboat motoring north pitched and plummeted in the chop.
Brener stopped just short of a long, commercial fishing net staked out along the point and we dropped minnows and squid strips over and felt the clunk of the sinkers as they hit hard bottom 12 feet down. The breeze bore us along at a gentle pace. Within minutes my bait stopped bouncing along and when I lifted the rod tip I felt the head-shaking protestations of a flounder on the line.
I've had some wonderfully productive days flounder fishing and this was not one of them, but on the other hand I've driven hours to get to the ocean to fish for fluke and not caught a thing.
This was somewhere in the middle. There were just enough flounder around Point Lookout to keep it interesting, which is more than I expected, and they kept biting all day, paying no apparent attention to tide, unlike their seaside kin.
After six hours we checked the box and discovered we'd exceeded our goal of a dozen. Fourteen keepers more than 12 inches long were nestled around the block of ice, including a few fat two-pounders.
Happiest of all with the day was Linda Brener, who usually spends a couple of hours cleaning up the boat after a bluefish trip, while her husband cleans fish. His technique of chumming for blues makes a wicked mess, but after a full day's flounder fishing, you could barely tell the boat had left the dock.
"This," she said, "I like."
Flounder bit willingly just inside Point Lookout in Cornfield Harbor in 12 to 20 feet of water and just outside the point off the wreckage of an old hotel.
Other reported hot spots are Tangier Sound off Crisfield, where I once boated an 11 3/4-pound flounder, and around the liquid natural gas plant north of Solomons Island on the Bay. Mike Gilberto at Anglers Sporting Goods said he caught four flounder off Thomas Point below Annapolis last week, when he was spot and sea trout fishing.
Wherever you go, the technique is pretty much the same. Flounder are bottom dwellers and won't be caught anywhere but tight to the floor of the Bay. They love minnows, strips of fresh, white squid and even strips of white flounder belly drifted along on long-shank hooks dressed with a bit of deer hair or a silver spinner.
As for cooking, the rule, as always, is never overcook fish. Scale and fillet flounder, dip in egg and milk, dust with pancake batter and fry in medium-hot oil until the meat flakes when pricked with a fork, and not a second longer.