Delayed opener is worth the wait

TILGHMAN ISLAND — TILGHMAN ISLAND - Until this year, Buddy Harrison hadn't missed opening day of the trophy rockfish season or the Orioles.

Then a bum hip needed replacement and Harrison's recovery took him out of the lineup and broke his streak.


Thursday, the charter captain who has been fishing the Chesapeake longer than the modern-day Birds have been around, was back with a vengeance, with a new boat under his deck shoes and the No. 5 ensign flying overhead.

It was hard to tell which the 70-year-old skipper (christened Levin F. Harrison III) enjoyed more, the new 65-foot Capt. Buddy filled with family and friends or the reason for the flag: Brooks Robinson was aboard.


One thing for sure. Harrison's opening day was a grand slam.

Fishing with the Hall of Famer has become an annual occurrence, but it's never old hat, judging by the number of bats, balls and jerseys Robinson signed over the course of seven hours. He signed some old hats, too.

And No. 5 shows as sure a hand with a fishing rod as he did flashing the leather at third base for 23 years.

"Boog was supposed to be here today," said Robinson, explaining the absence of Powell to fellow anglers. "The reason he isn't is because he stole more bases than me, and I didn't want to hear about it all day."

Actually, Powell was just up north at Prospect Bay, crabbing with his daughter who was visiting from Florida.

Between casts, Robinson talked about being a doting granddad, the engagement of his 41-year-old son and his golf game. He also compared knee replacement scars and rehab routines with several fellow former sufferers.

The Summer Gooses, the chumming area just outside the mouth of the Little Choptank River, were good to fellows named Brooks.

Brooks Harrison, 9, the grandson of the skipper, reeled in a 25 1/2 -inch rockfish before most of the other anglers were shaking off the early morning cobwebs. The man young Brooks was named for hauled in his limit early, too, all the while continuing to entertain.


Not far away, outdoors writer emeritus Bill Burton - who wrote for The Evening Sun for nearly 38 years - held court beneath a cloud of pipe smoke about everything from honesty not paying ("I wouldn't know") to the amount of angler fibbing ("Take the bull out of fishing and there's not much left").

Another fishing boat pulled along side to give its anglers a view of Robinson.

He waved and joked, "They're probably saying, 'My God, I thought he was dead.' "

Which brought him to another story: "I'm walking through the airport and there's a father and son walking toward me. I can tell by looking at the father's face that he recognizes me, and sure enough, there's a tug on my coattail. It's the little boy with a piece of paper.

"I sign, but as I'm handing it back, I say to him, 'You're so young. Why would you want Brooks Robinson's autograph?'

"And the little guy says to me, 'My dad says you're in the Hall of Fame and you're old and when you die this will probably be worth something.' "


Everybody roared, no one more than Robinson.

Then Charles Skipper told one on Burton about his TV fishing report.

"I came in from fishing and turned on the television and he's on there saying, 'The fish are jumping in the boat at Sharps Point Light.' And I say, 'Ain't that a damn shame they moved Sharps Island Light because I was just there and didn't catch a thing.' "

Burton repeated his line about fishing and fibbing, touching off another round of laughter from bow to stern.

The new boat, by the way, is a beauty. Built in Crisfield in the spring, it is powered by twin 660-horsepower Caterpillar diesels that push the hull along at 20 knots. The craft, christened the Capt. Buddy, replaces the wooden-hulled Buddy Plan, which has been in service for 31 years and will still be used for smaller parties.

"This is no fishing boat; it's a floating palace," harrumphed Burton, the one-time Navy Seabee.


Still, he must have found something comforting as he grabbed a quick catnap during the lull in between tides.

Between them, Burton and Harrison have nearly 100 years of bay experience. In addition to decades of friendship, they share something else. Each was named an "Admiral of the Chesapeake" by gubernatorial proclamation.

But Harrison has one up on the old wordsmith: an autobiographical CD and DVD, "Capt. Buddy's Song," a part-rap, part-country tune performed with Baltimore country singer Ronnie Dove's band.

The song is catchy. But the video is over the top, with Levin F. Harrison III donning the gold jewelry, the straw hat and snakeskin boots to become Capt. Buddy, The Boss Hogg of Tilghman Island. Meanwhile, behind him on the deck of his boat, two young women in bikinis wiggle and sing: "Capt. Buddy, he's so cool; he's got style and he's funny, too."

Despite his TV fishing reports, Burton doesn't have anything approaching it.

Thank God.