Great Old Captains
As the 20th century winds down, it's appropriate to look back at Chesapeake's best charter skipper since sportsfishing became popular in the 1920s. There are many to consider, also some better forgotten - you know, the ones who claim "you should have been here yesterday."
I arrived in Chesapeake Country in 1956, thus missed fishing with some of the early charter skippers, but old records, letters and notes fill in some of the gaps.
A copy of a letter dated April, 1924, tells us something about the early days of Bay sportsfishing. It was sent by Mrs. Levin Harrison of Tilghman Island to a Mr. Obrecht, presumably of Baltimore. Harrison, grandmother of Capt. Buddy Harrison of Tilghman Island who hosted our Fourth Annual New Bay Times fishing trip this past Sunday, told of a new 45-foot cabin cruiser fit for fishing in the upcoming season.
There were also three additional craft from Rock Haven on the Choptank, then the family angling headquarters, which was later moved to Harrison's Chesapeake House, also on the island. The new boat, Ida, was available for a day of trolling or bottom fishing for $12. Fishermen could stay over at $3 a day for shoreside food and lodging.
Boats departed at 5:30am. Fishermen who wanted to sleep a tad later could get box breakfasts as well as box lunches to eat on the boat. No dinners were served shoreside after 8pm, she advised Obrecht. "The help situation and my general welfare are both factors making these slight alterations to table schedule necessary."
The original Levin Harrison had passed on by the time I started covering outdoors for the Baltimore Sun papers, but I did fish a trip or two with his son, Levin Jr., who was then turning over the charter business to his son Levin III, better known as Buddy, who was in his early 20s, eager, thorough and always exploring new fishing grounds from Calvert Cliffs to Poplar Island.
Buddy's younger brother Ronnie, who died about 30 years ago, was beginning to carry parties, and their uncle Randolph Harrison, a state senator and head of the old Tidewater Fisheries Commission, was also a good charter skipper when he wasn't commercial fishing. Sports fishermen were fighting netters at the time, but Randolph was a good enough troller that anglers overlooked his commercial activities to book him.
Captains of the Western Shore
In the lower Chesapeake on this side of the Bay, the late Capt. Andy Scheible Sr. ruled the roost. A retired D.C. cop, he was known for his cobia, rockfish and hardhead catches as well as for his late season trout expertise at the Mudleads. His fishing center at Wynne was among the busiest on the Bay. His son Bruce now operates the family fishing center many-fold the size of the original one, and he obviously learned much from his dad, as did Andy Jr., who returned to the Bay following a career as an Air Force fighter pilot.
At Solomons, Capt. Harry Woodburn was known for his rockfish catches trolling Boxing Glove bucktails at Chinese Muds until he passed away about 40 years ago. His son-in-law Jack Johnson took over Woodburn's Fishing Center and was known for his crab drifting for stripers.
There was Junior Langley, a legend in his time out of Woodburn's Fishing Center, and later, Robbie Robinson, a steady, low-profile skipper who always catches fish aboard his Miss Regina. Add Tom Ireland to the list out of Solomons as well as the late Mike Sullivan, whose Dolly Diesel was known for its speed as well as for its catches. His son Christopher now operates the old boat out of Chesapeake Beach.
The later port has had its share of outstanding charter skippers. Probably the best known was Dick Houghland, whose reputation for clam chumming success was known throughout the Bay before he headed to Florida years ago. T.J. Johnson, out of the Rod 'n' Reel, was for years one of the best late-season trollers for big rockfish.
At Chesapeake Beach today, Capt. Ed O'Brien is known as well for his rockfish catches as he is as an activist for the Maryland Charterboat Association. One of the real old timers out of Rod 'n' Reel is Chuck Klein, who has been around long enough to know all the honey holes in the mid-Bay. Packed atop each other his rock, blues and trout would probably reach the moon.
On the other side of the Bay, Tommy and Henry Gootee know the Hooper Island-Honga River area better than the back of their hands. Learning fast is Henry's son Philip.
Capt. Dewey Landon out of Crisfield was a bit eccentric, but always caught fish, especially when bottom fishing. Bill Thomas was a whiz for Tangier Sound black drum. But good as charter fishermen were and are out of Crisfield, none could ever touch Charlton Marshall and Alex Kellam, who sometimes helped out charter skippers but didn't carry parties commercially. When I first met them, they were still trolling shoals with hand lines.
Kentmorr Marina on Kent Island had its share of legendary fishermen. Brothers Harry and Frank Carter served a delicious gourmet lunch aboard and knew how to get the most and biggest rockfish. There was also Charlie Ford, another pioneer in clam chumming - and such a serious fisherman that if his parties broke out a deck of cards while a tide was running, he figured it was time to head back to the docks. Harry Scoons was another legend. Today out of Kentmorr there's Chris Rosendale, whose fish box is usually filled. Sonny Schultz was a popular captain before he switched to running Fisherman's Inn at Kent Narrows and entered politics. But he could set up a devastating chum line.
In the upper Bay, skipper Ed Darwin out of Mill Creek has made a science out of chasing rockfish. Though best known for his Bay Bridge catches, he can't be beat from Thomas Point to the mouth of the Magothy. His bottom bouncing for cold weather rockfish put everyone to shame when the season was year 'round. The late Clarence Whittaker was one of the originals and a rockfish expert who stacked stripers on the docks back when there were no limits.
Farther up the Bay, Frank Edwards and Lawrence Rye would drift eels around the shoals until their anglers got tired of fishing. The same for Fritz Knachle. All of them are out of Edwards Boat Yard on Middle River. But it's said the best of them all was the late George Edwards, who built the well-known Edwards boats when he wasn't fishing.
Rob Joy fished his El Joy out of the Magothy, and I never heard of him being skunked. He concentrated on Snake Reef and Belvedere Shoals, never taking his eyes off the old flashing depth sounder except to reel in a fish.
So, who's the best of 'em all? Each knew his own sector of the Bay and knew it well. Some old timers caught their fish before electronics; others later used primitive electronics. Younger skippers have sophisticated fish finders, Loran, GPS and modern efficient tackle, though probably less fish. But just thinking of the great old captains is satisfying indeed.
| Issue 39 |
Volume VII Number 39
September 30-October 1, 1999
New Bay Times
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