ON A HOT DAY there's no better place to be than the Chesapeake Bay. Yesterday, there was no place better to be than on the bay with the Wish-A-Fish gang.
Fifteen boat owners - all avid fishermen - created a flotilla of fun for 11 families with handicapped and seriously ill children.
Under three white tents at Sandy Point State Park, youngsters were given fishing hats and T-shirts and pointed toward the dock, where captains and their first mates waited to take them fishing.
Skip Zinck, the organizer of the event, directed traffic, making sure no one was left out, including an outdoors writer with a heavy camera bag.
With a handshake and smile, Capt. Kevin Farrell invited me aboard his boat, the Megabyte. His first mate for the voyage, Danny Adams, was already busy rigging rods for a family of five: Dan and Michelle Webster and their children, Teddy, 4, Olivia, 5, and Gabriel, 7.
Adams has been a volunteer since the Wish-A-Fish Foundation began in 2000.
"I really enjoy the reaction of the kids," he said. "I remember how much it meant to me when my dad got me hooked on fishing. This is a great way to get someone started."
Farrell just plain loves taking kids fishing, both his grandchildren and the WAF participants.
West Marine provided the financial support, JR's Tackle in Pasadena and Warren's Bait Store in Glen Burnie made sure no one was without bloodworms, and Angler's Sport Center in Annapolis provided fishing citations for each youngster. The Chesapeake Bay Grady White Owners Club supplied the volunteers.
The Websters heard about the Wish-A-Fish Foundation from a Harford County neighbor, who had taken her children several years ago.
"It sounded like something we could all do together," Michelle said.
All three kids were busy practicing their best, "Fish on!" calls as Farrell eased his boat away from the dock and pointed the bow toward the Bay Bridge. Everyone waved to the anglers on the jetty before hunkering down for a quick run toward the Eastern Store.
"This is like a big pool of water," Gabriel yelled with glee. "Mama, for my birthday party I want to go fishing."
We joined the rest of the WAF boats just above the Bay Bridge, where the bite was on. Within minutes, squeals of delight were bouncing off the water as rods bent with white perch and spot.
"The sounder is lit up," yelled Farrell.
"Fish on!" shouted Gabriel, then Olivia, then Teddy.
Teddy, who is deaf, and his mother taught me my name in sign language and then his. I was working on some other words between catching and rebaiting.
When the fishing slowed, Olivia and Teddy used the Megabyte as a gigantic diving board, plunging over and over again into the cool water and their father's arms until their teeth were chattering and their arms were covered in goose bumps.
Gabriel grew impatient as the swimming detracted from the fishing.
"What are we here for?" he muttered several times before everyone took the hint and went back to the rods and reels.
Adams hooked a small cownose ray, which caused a minor crisis of confidence among the young anglers.
"Olivia, let's go someplace safe," said Gabriel, running below deck and pulling the curtain shut. He wasn't too crazy about the spiny white perch, either, but found the spot with their trademark black dot fascinating.
By 2:30 p.m., the cooler was full and Olivia was fantasizing about her favorite dinner: fish and chips.
Farrell started back to Sandy Point and a giant cookout on the lawn.
"I didn't think it was going to be fun, but it was," said Gabriel on the way back to the dock. "I'm going to tell people about it."
Michelle Webster was pleasantly surprised by her children's reactions.
"That was so wonderful," she said. "I didn't think they'd last, but look, we were the last ones in."
Last year, the WAF event at Sandy Point was blown out by bad weather. But in 2003, five events attracted 95 boat owners who provided a day on the water for 315 parents and youngsters.
The next WAF event is July 25 under the supervision of Capt. "Walleye" Pete Dahlberg. Boats will leave from the Calvert County Marine Museum in Solomons. For information, call him at 410-586-8340.
To make a contribution, go to: www.wish-a-fish.org.
Don't forget that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is having a hearing on a proposal to cap the commercial harvest of menhaden at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Annapolis Radisson Hotel.
The two-year cap is to give scientists time to figure out why the population of the fish, which filter the bay and serve as food for striped bass and other species, is declining.
The plan is being opposed by the Virginia company responsible for scooping the fish out of the bay and grinding them up for feed and Omega-3 fish oil pills.
If you can't attend the hearing, send comments to Nancy Wallace, Menhaden Species Coordinator for ASMFC, 1444 "Eye" St., NW, Washington, DC 20005, or e-mail her at email@example.com. Deadline for comment is Aug. 1.
A listing of outdoors activities can be found at www.baltimoresun.com. Items for the Outdoors Journal may be mailed to Outdoors Editor, The Baltimore Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, MD 21278-0001. Please include time, date and location of events, as well as a short description of planned activities and a telephone number for more information. Please mail listings four weeks before the date of the event.