During my years working in the Keys, Dan LaCross and I had numerous boating and fishing adventures that I look forward to sharing when the cold winter winds blow across the Chesapeake Bay. Dan still has a place down South and can verify the veracity of my documentary narratives.
My most recent fishing partner, Wayne Suite died of Lyme disease complications. Since then, I have mostly fished alone.
By far, the most interesting fishing trips that I ever experienced were with left handed lead guitar player Ralph Long who, according to last report, is living somewhere in Central Florida far from the fish of either coast or the two women from Calvert and St. Mary’s Counties who seek child support from him.
Twenty five years ago, Ralph was not so elusive.
When we first started playing music together, I discovered that Ralph was a fisherman from a long line of watermen who fished the Potomac River. I live near the Patuxent River. So, I asked Ralph to guide me on the Potomac as our family was enjoying weekend camping at a marina campground near Colonial Beach, Virginia.
Ralph gave me a list of bait to bring on the first trip we would fish together. Two dozen fat bloodworms, half a dozen soft crabs, and two pounds of the biggest freshest shrimp that I could find was the order for the day.
We launched my 25′ diesel powered KenCraft from the Harborview Marina in Virginia and started fishing a long stretch of oyster bars from north of Swan Point down to St. Clements Island. We cut up some bloodworms and sectioned out a couple soft crabs. As we loaded the cooler with white perch and spot and tossed back small rockfish, Ralph narrated his family history:
He was not descended from the Longs who came across the Atlantic Ocean on the Ark and the Dove with the founding settlers of Maryland. His many times Great Grandfather was actually Indian Brave Long Gone who hailed from a renegade sub-tribe of the Piscataway’s called the Fasgetaways who had retreated into the depths of the Zekiah Swamp.
The Fasgetaways were noted for their quick vessels that prowled the Potomac tributaries. Unlike the traditional poplar log canoes used by other Chesapeake tribes, Brave Long Gone’s boat was built from a longer, narrower, lighter, less common basswood tree. The added length provided greater displacement speed. The narrower, lighter hull made the canoe easier to paddle. The Fasgetaways did not need to build and maintain weirs to catch fish.
They simply harvested at night from the other tribes’ fish traps. Even with a big sturgeon loaded in the bottom of the canoe, the Fasgetaways could easily out paddle their pursuers.
With a fast boat and plenty of free time, Brave Long Gone traveled past the mouth of the Potomac River all the way south to the York River on the lower Chesapeake Bay. He met up with an Indian maiden who was nicknamed “Little Wanton”. Today, she is remembered in the history books as Pocahontas.
She lived up to her nickname and Brave Long Gone made his fast get away after their torrid affair. In order to get revenge on being jilted, Pocahontas saved the life of Capt. John Smith. She made him promise that he would hunt down, capture or execute Brave Long Gone for taking advantage of her. That is the real reason why Capt. John Smith and his crew so thoroughly explored the Chesapeake Bay tributaries in their long boat.
“Now Ralph, why didn’t the history books report these events and when are we going to use those jumbo shrimp in the cooler for bait?” I asked as we continued to drift the oyster bars and catch lots of small fish.
Ralph replied, “Don’t you worry about the shrimp. We’re still catching fish. Duck! Now!” We both dropped to the deck as a school of three foot long garfish flew like arrows across where we had just been standing on the deck.
“Look Larry, why do you think Capt. Smith and his crew were traveling in a Long boat? A fishing boat is for fishing. A crab boat catches crabs. And, obviously, a Long boat is for nabbing Longs. Isn’t that proof enough?” Ralph continued his story:
It seemed like Brave Long Gone would soon meet his demise as the long boat paddled by Capt. John Smith’s crew was even faster than his Fasgetaway canoe. One day in the afternoon, Capt. Smith spotted Brave Long Gone at the mouth of the Wicomico River. The long boat crew was slowly gaining on Brave Long Gone as he tried to make it back into the tangled depths of the Zekiah Swamp.
At Allen’s Fresh, before the woodland forest began, the paddles of the long boat disturbed a resting sturgeon. The giant fourteen foot long fish leapt high into the air and landed dead amidships across the long boat breaking it in two.
Capt. Smith and his crew survived but they had to walk west across dense woodlands to a low spot on the Potomac where they made a big fire and cooked crabs and oysters for three weeks while they waited for a rescue crew. Today, there are three seafood houses at this location in Popes Creek.
Seeing the power and destruction that great fish wrought on his would be captors gave Brave Long Gone an idea. He decided to harness the energy of a big sturgeon for a high speed transit option.
Riding the incoming tide up Mattawoman Creek one night, Brave Long Gone discovered an extra large sturgeon caught in the oversized gill nets that the Paumunkey Indians used to catch these huge fish. Rather than killing it with a spear to the heart prior to manhandling it aboard, Brave Long
Gone slipped a hand made halter made of deerskin over it’s head prior to releasing it from the gill net made from wild grapevines.
Using braided sinew for lead lines and a clay pot of shucked oysters for treats of encouragement, Brave Long Gone domesticated the grateful fish to pull his canoe.
Pushed hard, the sturgeon could pull the basswood canoe past it’s displacement speed. Brave Long Gone now had the first planing hull boat on the East Coast. With the fastest canoe in the Chesapeake region, he easily evaded Capt. Smith while he populated much of the upper Potomac River tidal basin with his progeny. In recent years, the guy with the coolest car got all the gals. Imagine how the Indian girls swooned when Brave Long Gone pulled his custom hewn basswood canoe into the cove with a monster sturgeon tucked beneath the bow.
Capt. John Smith eventually returned to England without fulfilling his promise to Pocahontas. She settled down and married an English settler named John Rolfe but she never stopped carrying both a torch and grudge for Brave Long Gone. From her deathbed on a ship in England on the River Thames, her last words delivered a curse that the denizens of the deep would seek out and destroy Brave Long Gone and all his descendants.
“Now Ralph, that’s a great story.” I said as we quickly dodged again to avoid another volley of leaping garfish aimed directly at our heads. “But I’m not buying this Indian curse mojo mumbo jumbo. The cooler is full. We’re tied up to the dock. Why haven’t we used a single one of those big expensive shrimp that I bought?”
Ralph reached in the cooler, plucked out the cold plastic bag full of fresh choice shrimp and said, “Larry, you’ve got a whole mess of little fish to spend the rest of the night filleting. This big bag of shrimp is for my dinner.”