Dock of the Bay/Gone Fishing, Good Chum?

by Nathan Oravec

The digital clock on the car dash clicks 5:51 as you pull into Point Lookout in Ridge, Maryland. RVs and motor homes dot the dusty little inlet, as does a lonely restaurant named Courtney’s, which appears to have been uprooted from some Cancun red-line district and literally dropped here. In the twilight, neon bulbs radiate from gray windowpanes. You can practically hear the glow. Already filled with a 24-7 franchise’s pancakes from a breakfast consumed at an hour even farmers would fail to recognize, you consider that you could have eaten here instead - but then, it seems unlikely that the establishment would offer anything more than beer and peanuts, and perhaps a good, solid brawl if one was called for.
At water’s edge, small waves pound a rocky outcropping almost silently while a weather-beaten boathouse built by the shoreline poses for a novice’s painting that may one day grace a motel room wall. A flock of gulls take sentry at any number of wooden stumps that disappear somewhere unknown beneath the drink. On top, however, those flying rodents perch proudly, as though the beams were placed there for them and them alone, and with no other purpose apparent, you concede that maybe they were. In the midst of it all stands the dock, a veritable gateway between two worlds comprised entirely of fisherman’s knots, wooden planks and creaking - and the giddy thrill you’ve had since childhood every time you cross the boardwalk. Beyond that waits the bay.
At six, your charter arrives. Christened the Temple M, the boat appears out of nowhere, as though having materialized from the water’s mist or metamorphosed from one of the gulls. The boat’s captain approaches the deck, and with him, initiative - as your party, twelve strong, begin hauling coolers and their drowsy, but eager, bodies toward the ship.
Captain Greg Madjeski bellows “Come aboard!” and you balance yourself on one of the seagull’s splintered seats as you crawl up and over into the Temple M. Hosing off the deck, Captain Greg resembles a cross between Captain Kangaroo and Charles Bronson. “Step into the puddle and wash the earth off your feet,” he says; and you listen, because he’s more the latter, and after all, this is his boat - and he is the Captain.
You take a seat near the cabin - a green, plastic lawn chair, of which there are a handful - and watch the waves port side as the sky grows lighter from a sun readying to shine. Others follow suit. When all are finally aboard and seated, Captain Greg wastes no time, immediately taking position behind the wheel. There’s no First Mate today, just him, and a dozen weekenders who have paid good money to see some fish. Time, it seems, is of the essence. The Captain strikes you as a man of few words - here, on the boat, at least; but you get the distinct impression that he has been doing this for quite some time. And so, the only question in need of answer becomes, “Where are they?” The engine, in reply, turns over with a stuttering roar. Before long, you are rocketing out into open waters.
Nearing its destination, cutting through the bay, the ship kicks up swells of spray and foam that pelt its hull relentlessly. “That would make a good picture,” says one of the twelve, pointing off starboard toward the sky. You ready your digital, looping its strap around your wrist, and steadying yourself, peer out across the water to get a good look at the awesome sight in contention. There, the sun rises, only three hours after yourself. Clearly, it was beauty rest. Breaking through a quartet of clouds, brilliant rays glimmering down upon the blue, the magnificent wonder of it all is the reason you believe in God. You snap the photo. No matter how many fish are reeled in, you already have the catch of the day.
Just under two hours after reaching the day’s first hole at seven, the outlook has begun to sour. Equipped with spinner rods and bait of combination cubed fish pieces and gizzards; complimented by a hearty chum line created by the Captain feeding smaller iced-fish whole into a motorized meat-grinder off the side - they should be biting one after another. But they’re not. Three keepers have been boated thus far, the largest a twenty-one inch rockfish. The rest have fallen just shy of the eighteen inch regulation.
“C’mon, guys. It’s going to be kind of hard dividing three fish up between twelve guys,” Greg jokingly chastises.
“It’s not quantity, it’s quality,” someone retorts.
“Yeah - and we’ve got neither,” Greg shoots back.
“We’ll just take the chum back and eat that,” suggests another.
You haven’t had a single bite. You’re content regardless. The weather is glorious, with a polite breeze that whistles across the bay and lends welcome reprieve from ninety degree temps. Being here on the water, reminds you of the ocean. Jellyfish visible just under the surface bob nonchalantly in and out of range, and every so often, a Maryland crab skitters off to parts unknown. The fish, to you, are secondary. The smell of the saltwater, the sound of it as it tumbles lazily over itself, the rocking of the boat - it’s the emotion that it evokes in you; that’s what you like. Still, you won’t lie, it would be nice to reel one in.
And then, all of a sudden, they’re there. Not the fish. But the ships. A fleet of them, scattered across the horizon line, silently sailing into view like huddled spirits of those lost long at sea. But these - of various shapes, sizes, capacities and names - are no ghosts. Many are charters like the Temple M; others, carrying sunbathers, are simply out for a ride. “Do they do this everyday?” you wonder. “Are they locals. Do they live on the bay?” A great distance away, the silhouette of a massive barge slowly trudges through the Chesapeake. “What would it be like?”
At about one, after a substantial morning and afternoon of fishing, after the gear has been stowed and the deck swabbed clean, the Temple M once again flies for shore. At least ten large rock rest on ice in a cooler at the back of the boat - the day’s take. Not ideal, of course, but not a bust by any stretch of the imagination. You caught one, too. Just not one of those. Like several, it measured at just over seventeen inches and was promptly tossed back over. That’s fine. You’re happy with the way things turned out. So’s that rock you caught, you imagine.
It’s pushing two as you return to Point Lookout. As the boat pulls up to the dock, Captain Greg charges back through as he balances both piloting the vessel and tying it down. “Coming through,” he bellows. “Coming through!” And you listen - or you’re moved. After all, this is his boat - and he is the Captain.
You decide to take one last photo - this one of the day’s catches. “Not a whole lot to write about this trip,” Captain Greg says quietly.
He’s humble.
To charter Captain Greg Madjeski and the Temple M, call 301-872-4215. Visit http://www.captgregcharters.com/.