TILGHMAN ISLAND -- The striped bass had spawned up the bay a ways and, while headed south to the ocean, noticed the good ship "Pleasant Merchant" pull alongside. Despite the earliness of the hour -- reveille had been a very angry knock on the door at 5:30 a.m. -- the folks aboard seemed wide awake and talking up a storm.
The bass thought, "Gee, I think that's state comptroller Louis Goldstein. I think I'll join him. I voted for him in the last election." Even Democratic fish vote in this state, right, Ellen Sauerbrey?
A short stretch of water later, Captain Buddy Harrison's "Merchant" pulled up, the fishing poles were rigged and set out and the lottery for who would handle the first strike was being conducted. While this was going on, the bass headed for the rockfish clearinghouse to be measured.
During the month-long spring fishing season, rock measuring at least 32 inches can be taken. This is down two inches from last year and four inches from the two years prior to that. The head bass at the clearinghouse informed all his brethren 31.5 inches and under, sure, you can have a good time, go for those lures.
The hooks from the lead boat of the Harrison Fleet, chartered out for the "Burton Armada" this day, had barely dropped 20 feet into the water when a striped bass was on the center pole line, rarin' to go.
It would be a monumental struggle, for Goldstein had drawn the opening assignment and, as Louie puts it, "Chronologically, I'm 82 years old. Biologically, I'm 36. Ask . . . wait a minute, better not say that." It was well before 8 a.m. and the state official had risen hours before and driven maybe 100 miles to this yearly rendezvous.
That would not be a problem, though. What was, however, is that
host Bill Burton had set that particular rig, "which means there's at least five miles of line out there," the boat's baiter said.
Everybody was up cheering Goldstein on. Cameras clicked, cargo was shifted, people changed vantage points, the ship's crew issued instructions and scurried for equipment to help out once the fish was within distance for netting.
Louis took the pole up, got a nice bend on the end of it and began winding feverishly as he lowered it. Over and over and over. A shipmate pointed out that though the boat was still in Maryland waters, the rock was in Virginia waters and a question arose if the (fisher) Mann Act might apply here, transporting an underage female fish over state lines.
The comptroller, between stints recapturing the line from the enemy, said, "won't matter, Virginia's laws are always easier than ours." Finally, the rock was boated, measured (31 inches), photographed more than Demi Moore and lowered back into the water.
"A good day," Buddy Harrison was saying, "is when the party [of six or eight] catches five or six fish. It improves from that if one of them is a 'keeper.' "
Within 90 minutes, the flagship of this seven-ship convoy had reeled
in four fish with a keeper arriving at the No. 3 lottery position, a 42-inch beauty, Dr. Larry Stafford of University Hospital attending.
No. 5 was a 30-incher, but the 31.25-incher was back again as No. 6. It had to be the same fish, right? He was marked for later identification and returned. Shortly after 10 a.m., three lines were active. Rockfish were slapping down on deck all over the place and two of them were keepers.
While the first fish had arrived amidst great fanfare, some of the anglers now weren't even reacting to the cry, "Strike." Maybe baseball had something to do with it. The fish were welcome, sure, but some of the stories were better. It's always that way around Louie Goldstein.
He told of his venture into the publishing business: "Twice in one day in 1950 I became owner, publisher and editor of papers known as The Journal and The Gazette in Prince Frederick at an output of just a hundred bucks apiece. People in town came in and wrote the gossip. Anything scandalous I threw in the wastebasket. Let the Washington Post print that."
By noontime, the rock were getting smaller, three in a row measuring 29 inches. The marked 31-incher never showed up again. The party figured he was past Point Lookout and halfway to Cape Charles, Va., by now.
Louis Goldstein had to depart. A boat came out and he was transferred, just like in a Tom Clancy movie. "I've got a function to attend over at Washington College, established in 1782," he explained. Louis always puts the 1782 in there.
And yes he did dispense his, "God bless you all real good . . . the fish, too."
(Next: The Burton Armada is victorious and returns to friendly waters.)