Last weekend I joined more than 40 area fishing enthusiasts celebrating the 35th anniversary of the Water & Woods Fishing Club. The club is the brain child of Riviera Beach's Bill Burton, retired outdoors editor of the Baltimore Evening Sun.
"The club got its start in 1958 when 30 sportsmen got together and fished the Choptank River. Buddy Harrison hosted us at the Chesapeake House, over on Tilghman Island, and that's where we've stayed every year since," Burton said.
"Let's see, in that first group we had people like Charlie Miller, who was the editor of Maryland Outdoors, Dr. Ted Boss, attorney rTC Smith and Bob Pond, who invented the Atom plug that soon became the standard rockfish lure on the bay."
At that first meeting, the club got its name from Burton's popular outdoors column, "Water and Woods." Over the years the club has seen many of Maryland's most popular figures count themselves as members -- Sen. Barbara Mikulski and State Comptroller Louis Goldstein, Baltimore Colts Billy Ray Smith and Fred Miller, and DJ Brian Wilson.
The club meets but once a year -- the last Friday and Saturday in April. The meeting begins with cocktails and dinner at the Chesapeake House, followed by a good night's sleep, an early-morning breakfast and a full day on the bay.
"Back when we started getting together for this event," Burton said, "we fished mostly for the plentiful rockfish. When the rockfish numbers began to dip, we found that we more than made up for the loss with increased catches of bluefish. Now, it looks like the fishing will be swinging back to striped bass in future years."
Captain Buddy Harrison said that in the event's 35-year history, "we were only blown off the bay twice by bad weather."
Because of the extended chill of this year's early spring, we were not really expecting to catch much other than a few rock, which would have to be immediately released. In fact, all six boats pulling away from the Harrison dock were rigged for blues and I looked on the day as a scouting trip in preparation for yesterday's trophy rockfish opening.
"This is the first time I've been out this spring," Captain Mike Lipski said as he steered the Tradition through Knaps Narrows and into the main channel of the Chesapeake. On board with me were Scott Dengler and Dave Ayers of Baltimore, Bel Air's Danny Jones and Charles Utz, who "comes down every year for this trip," from Princeton, N.J.
This was my first bay outing of the year, and as we moved from the Choptank, through the Narrows and into the bay, I once again marveled at the beauty we often take for granted.
Despite a shirt-sleeve morning, Captain Lipski noted that the water temperature was still cold -- "46 degrees . . . that'll probably keep the rock up the rivers and the blues out in the ocean for a while yet."
The skipper was right. "There are no fish in the Chesapeake Bay today," Utz said after more than six hours of trolling. We covered the main channel area from just south of the tip of Kent Island, down past Buoy 84, out from the Radar Towers on the western shore and finally as far south as the Clay Bank Buoy with no success. The other five boats carrying the rest of the members of the Water & Woods Fishing Club didn't do much better.
By the time we stopped at 2 in the afternoon, only six fish had been caught -- all rock and all released immediately.
News and notes
* Shoot sporting clays today from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Stoney Creek Fishing & Hunting Club, located at 9090 Fort Smallwood Road, Pasadena.
* Phil Krista, (410) 461-3007, is signing up students for a bowhunting education course at the same club beginning Aug. 16.
* The boating education course beginning Tuesday at Annapolis High has been filled. But call Anita Murray at (410) 757-4848 to sign up for the next one scheduled at the same location beginning June 1.