Bryan Schmitt fell for fishing, hook, line and sinker. He owns hundreds of fiberglass rods and enough tackle, he said, "to fill a one-car garage." A resident of Deale, he fishes almost daily, on the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay, braving snow, sleet and 100-degree heat. Once, while casting his lot on a Florida lake, he ran his boat aground amid some hungry alligators and barely escaped.
"I'd do it again, in a heartbeat," he said.
Schmitt is hell-bent on the sport, those who know him say. It's a fancy he has parlayed into a healthy sidelight. Two weekends ago, he earned $125,000 with a victory on the Fishing League Worldwide Tour, on the Mississippi River in La Crosse, Wis.
"Bryan is so passionate about fishing that there could be a 50-piece orchestra playing on his boat and he wouldn't notice it," said Frank Carver, his father-in-law.
"He likes fishing so much, he'll sleep with his gear on so that when he wakes up, he's gone," said Dave Wilder, a longtime friend. "He is obsessed, and he is the best. A rod in his hand is a magic wand."
His recent victory, Schmitt's first on the tour, all but clinches him a berth in the Forrest Wood Cup, the Super Bowl of bass fishing that pits 35 top anglers against one another Aug. 11-13 at Lake Murray, S.C. All Schmitt need do is score well on the final qualifying tour stop June 15. The place? The Potomac River.
"I know that water very well. I could fish it in the dark," said Schmitt, 36, whose nickname is "Mr. Potomac." Trouble is, other entrants know that he knows every cove and cranny, and will likely follow his boat.
"I know I cannot fly under the radar," he said. "People will be watching me, but there's nothing you can do. Hopefully, I'll have multiple places where I can go to catch fish."
All his life, Schmitt has sought to outfox fish. Raised in Howard County, he grew up fishing on Wilde Lake and Centennial Lake. There's a photo of him, wearing diapers, with pole in hand. Often, his grandmother, an ardent angler, took him out on a pond. It toughened him up.
"She was like a drill sergeant," Schmitt said. "If I had to go to the bathroom, she'd say, 'Just keep fishing.' There was no stopping."
As he grew older, other sports beckoned. A star defensive end at Oakland Mills, Schmitt helped the Scorpions win the state Class 1A football championship in 1998. Then he stopped making tackles and started collecting the stuff.
A charter boat captain by trade, he thrives on the challenge of the chase.
"Bryan likes to figure fish out, how they think and what they do. He's driven to it," Carver said. "He'll go out there from dark to dark, casting a couple of thousand times a day. He's like a machine. He won't stop to eat because he thinks he's going to miss a fish, or maybe learn something from a different cove or stream.
"He has a knack. He'd be fishing even if there wasn't money involved."
Largemouth bass are Schmitt's favorite prey; catch-and-release is his mantra.
"They intrigue me," he said. "They are hard to pattern, but once you do, and it pays off, it's so rewarding. But I respect them too much to eat them."
What are Schmitt's secrets? Common sense and years of trial-and-error. Water temperature, depth and clarity are keys.
"Fish are spooky in clean water — they can see you before you see them," he said. "Dirty water blinds them and makes them stay shallow."
On the water, he said, "I stay quiet. You take everything in, all that nature has given. Hearing the wind, or birds, is important. Birds can mean there are baitfish around, and where there are baitfish, there are probably bass."
For as highly as he regards the fish, would Schmitt, in another life, want to come back as one?