GOLDEN HILL, MD. -- If you never heard of this place, who could blame you? Even the makers of the official Maryland state road map ignore tiny Golden Hill, which nestles unheralded at the juncture of Routes 335 and 336 near Crapo, Bishops Head and Crocheron on Maryland's lower Eastern Shore.
Happily, though, what the mapmakers overlooked, Philip Gootee did not. Years ago, he saw in this mosquito-ridden backwater a business opportunity.
That was in the 1950s, before wetlands-protection legislation. Gootee knew how to run heavy machinery and figured with a little off-the-cuff crane work he could dig a connection between the squishy marshland he owned and the fish-rich waters of the nearby Honga River and the Chesapeake Bay beyond.
So he set to, and countless scoops of malodorous muck later had himself a channel and harbor. He piled the mud up to get it out of the way and when it dried it was -- eureka! -- fast land. Naming the man-made oasis Gootee's Marine, he built some docks and buildings on it, all of which thrive here 35 years later in the hands of sons Tommy and Henry.
So why would folks from Baltimore and Washington drive 2 1/2 hours to buy outboards and fishing boats here that they could find closer to home? "Fishing boats from fishing folks is our motto," said Tommy Gootee, 41. "We know how to set 'em up because we use them ourselves."
Evidently the angle works, because even in these troubled boating industry times, business has been good. Last year Gootee rewarded himself with what he considers the ultimate fishing machine -- a 29-foot C-Hawk with a pair of 235-horsepower outboards, in which he roars around the sleepy tidal creeks like some misplaced maritime NASCAR entry.
He invited a few of us down to roar with him last week and kick off the bluefish and sea trout fishing season, which seemed a great idea back in the winter but looked a bit iffy by post time. "This should be the height of the spring run right now," said Gootee, idling the giant engines at the dock, "but it's been slow. Real slow."
Nonetheless, we set out through his daddy's cut channel, spooking herons and ospreys. If you've never been through a marsh by fast boat, the trip from Gootee's to the Honga is an experience. Just hang onto your hat.
Once outside, he aimed downstream for Hooper's Island Bridge, the speedo clocking 39 mph, which is flying on the water. "This," said Gootee, patting his toy's dashboard contentedly, "is what I dreamed about."
Still, a fishing boat is only as good as the fish around it, and when he slowed the Johnsons and began trolling the deep Chesapeake ship channel near Hooper's Island Light, all was quiet. No surprise. Last weekend, 1,500 boats competing in the Maryland Saltwater Sportfisherman's Association's two-day, baywide bluefish derby boated just 91 blues. It's been slim pickings everywhere so far.
Gootee had a backup plan, though. After a couple of nonproductive hours trolling he headed for crescent-shaped Holland Island to the east, an abandoned, tree-studded outpost where grey and speckled trout come early in the season to feed. With afternoon stretching toward evening, it was time to dunk fresh peeler crab baits in the grassy shallows.
Gootee nudged his vessel onto an island marsh tump to steady it. "Hang on," he said, putting the nose on shore and gunning the motors to drive it high and dry.
Then he baited eight hooks with chunks of peeler crab, fanned them out behind the boat and settled into a fighting chair to await the action, which once more didn't come.
With dusk and disappointment descending, Gootee backed the boat off its island perch and anchored offshore in 20 feet of water on a spot the fish-finder suggested was littered with fish. Just before dark a rod went down and shook in its holder with the vigorous protestations of the year's first grey trout, which Gootee neatly delivered to net. A bit later trout No. 2 came in.
By then, unfortunately, it was bitter dark and time to go. Gootee pointed the fast boat north, stopping en route to check out the fortunes of a rival, Bobby Ford aboard the Night Shift, who'd anchored a half-mile away and loaded his cooler with a couple dozen speckled trout in the four-pound range.
Which at least confirmed that some schools of trout have arrived, two weeks late and still few and far between. Maybe the overdue blues will follow suit.
Meantime, I've discovered a marsh oasis to repair to when the fishing gets right, which it surely will, eventually. At Gootee's, they could hang a sign:
"Welcome: Fishing spoken here."
Trailer boaters will be pleased to hear there's a free, state-maintained launch ramp next to Gootee's. Tommy Gootee says peeler crabs for bait are always available from one or another of the many crabbers that work nearby waters. Bottom fishing for trout, spot, blues and a few hardheads in the close-by Honga River and Hooper Straits should pick up in the next couple of weeks, he said.
Gootee's also has charter boats available at $300 to $330 a day. For information, phone (301) 397-3122.