Annapolis, Maryland prides itself as the sailing capital of the world, but plenty of us locals would rather go fishing than sailing any day of the week. And during striped bass trophy season on the Chesapeake Bay, when there’s a hot bite just outside the mouth of the Severn River—ground-zero for Annapolitan wind-worshippers—there’s sure to be a tension in the air. Especially if it’s blowing as strongly as the fish are biting.
Case in point: just yesterday I set the anchor at 5:23 AM, with nary a sail within sight. Of course, since it was pitch dark I couldn’t see much of anything on the horizon. But just as the sun rose my daughter hooked a big striped bass, and we enjoyed a wonderful morning of fishing. By 9:00, however, an ominous blanket of white appeared at the mouth of the river. And within an hour, a horde of invading sailors tacked in every direction.
When a boat laden with orange and yellow polyballs the size of Volkswagon Beetles arrived, we knew we were in trouble. We watched as the boat set a race course for the sailors, with us right in the middle. Soon thereafter we heard the boom of the starting gun, and the race was on—from a half-mile away no fewer than 50 plumb bows advanced in unison directly towards us, like a phalanx of Roman warriors on the march.
Fortunately, it was a slow march. Three or four hours later, the first passed us by. We waved, they waved, and all remained copasetic. But the peace was not to last, because as the bulk of the fleet approached and the sailors vied for wind and position, some drew dangerously close. One passer-by grabbed one of our fishing lines with its keel, ripping off the bait and chafing the line. Then another became snagged, breaking off our rigs.
“Hey!” one of my guests began to yell.
“Shhhh,” I told him. “They’re just trying to win their race.”
I kept to myself the smug self-satisfaction that their boat was now towing a tangle of monofilament, lead weight, and bait behind it—which would surely reduce their blistering pace of 0.04 MPH down to 0.03 MPH. I knew that sooner or later (probably much, much later…) they’d all be past us and we’d have the bay to ourselves again.
And eventually, all of the boats did go by. That was when we heard the starting gun go off again. And sure enough, there on the horizon was another phalanx of white lines, slightly askew, heading right for us and our chum slick. Another heat followed, and another after that, and so on until we ran out of fishing time and headed for home.
In retrospect, I’m glad the sailors were racing that day. Truth be told, they gave us something to watch and something to talk about when the fish stopped biting. Losing two rigs is inconsequential to say the least, and if nothing else, all those sailboats probably kept other anglers from choosing a spot near-by.
So the next time someone asks me if Annapolis, Maryland really is the sailing capital of the world, I’ll say yes—and if they buy the chum, I’ll show them why.