SOLOMONS, MD. -- Capt. Robbie Robinson says he can't get anyone to fish with him in the evening anymore. "I don't know what's wrong with 'em," he said.
You have to wonder. Fishing through sunset here at the mouth of the Patuxent River in late summer and the fall has long been one of life's more productive, easy and satisfying experiences.
And now that the state has run four-lane, divided Route 4 from the Beltway clear down to Solomons, it's a 1 1/2-hour drive without a stoplight.
"You'd think people would want to drop down after work," said Robinson, who doesn't know many Washingtonians are required to work until 11 p.m. if they expect to get anywhere. "It's such a relaxing way to end the day. But something about nighttime fishing puts them off."
Not me. When one of Robinson's regular clients, Ebbie Smith, invited me along for an evening of fishing last week, I jumped at the chance.
Smith said we'd be after some of the Chesapeake Bay's sweetest prizes -- sea trout, flounder, jumbo spot and croakers, and the ubiquitous bluefish. And when day was done and we headed in under a coal-black, starlit sky, all of the above were in the box except the croakers, which were no-shows.
Robinson's usual evening charter for as many as six anglers runs from 3 to 9 p.m. He charges $180 plus the cost of bait. But that day, because he had no day charter and because he and Smith are old fishing pals, they started early, about 1 p.m., no extra charge.
It was a mild August day with rain clouds around, so the half-hour ride from dock to fishing grounds was pleasant and cool. But once we arrived at the mouth of the river, you could see why day fishing can be a hassle.
About 30 to 40 boats were jammed up in a small area where some sea trout were concentrated. Robinson plunged into the tight circle and began trolling. We began catching trout in the 1- to 2-pound range. But it was no fun for the skipper, who spent much of his time dodging crab-pot markers and other boats.
From time to time Robinson, who knows the good spots after a lifetime here, would duck off a few hundred yards to try a different place. But as soon as we hooked a fish, the crowd would be on us again.
Still, the fishing was steady and later became excellent as Robinson spotted hills of bottom-dwelling trout on his depth-finder. When he came running back from the helm, grabbed up his rod and started jigging in earnest, you knew something was up. And sure enough, as often as not, you soon felt fish attacks.
Exciting and productive as it was, we breathed a sigh when evening came and most of the fleet went in. "This is when we do our gentle fishing," said Robinson, stowing the heavy trolling gear in favor of lighter tackle and peeler crabs and bloodworms for bait.
He motored in closer to shore, cut the engine and began drifting in the twilight. This was better -- no noise, no fumes, no traffic, and in the distance the red sun dipping behind the graceful arch of Thomas Johnson Bridge.
Moreover, on the oyster bars over which we dragged the baits lay a marvelous mix: Big spot, the buttery, delicious panfish most favored by serious Bay seafood lovers; more trout; the occasional ravenous blue, which Robinson calls piranhas for their propensity to slash off half a trout as you reel one in; delicious flounder; wretched, inedible mud toads; hard crabs that latch onto a bait and won't let go, and even one black sea bass, which evidently wandered up the Bay by mistake.
The lights from Solomons twinkled reassuringly over the calm water, prop planes from Patuxent Naval Air Station buzzed around overhead, and if you looked out into the vast blackness of the Chesapeake to the east, you could make out the running lights of great tankers and freighters plodding up and down the Bay, ships passing in the night.
"It's so dark out here it's almost suffocating," said Pat Gallagher, a Charles County schoolteacher on her first fishing trip.
Robinson headed in at 9 p.m., right on schedule, with a hell of a mess of fish in the box. Gallagher, Smith and I sat along the stern in deck chairs, watching the wake disappearing into the night. It was a long, long way from trouble and strife.
Most of the charter skippers at Solomons run evening trips on request, and the water here is calm and protected enough that small, private boats are adequate for evening fishing as long as the weather is calm and stable.
For information on rates, baits and charter dates, a good way to start is by phoning Doris Johnson at H.M. Woodburn's bait and tackle store on the island. She keeps up with such things.