‘Fishing Line’ column was major factor in attracting anglers to Middlesex area
Second in a series
by Larry Chowning
Dr. Charles “Duke” Wellington Taber was a fishing outdoor columnist for the Southside Sentinel from 1952 to 1963. During those years his column “Fishing Line” ran on the front page of the Sentinel during the area’s sport-fishing hook-and-line season.
Dr. Taber retired to Urbanna after World War II from a Richmond medical practice and found a great deal of joy and inspiration fishing the Rappahannock and Piankatank rivers and its tributaries.
The late Robert S. Bristow Jr. said the following in a 1976 tribute to Dr. Taber before the Urbanna Town Council: “After his retirement, Dr. Taber learned to love Urbanna soon after moving here. An ardent fisherman, it wasn’t long before he began a weekly column in the Southside Sentinel called Fishing Line. That column was one of the best things that ever happened for this (Middlesex) county and the surrounding areas. It was read everywhere. Many people living here now came [here] because of those fishing reports, and most people remember him for that. According to past issues of the Sentinel, Dr. Taber began the column in 1952 and it was published each week [on the front page of the Sentinel] during the sport-fishing season through 1963. In July 1964, Dr. Taber came by the [Sentinel)] office [in Urbanna] and said he was discontinuing the column because of failing eyesight.”
The years following World War II brought new economic and demographic changes to Middlesex County. The war had helped create a more vibrant national economy with more and better paying jobs. Many living in the city found themselves able to afford to buy a 50-foot-wide lot on the river and build themselves a summertime, cinderblock home with no heat or air-conditioning. These folks also had small boats and used them to bottom fish. They read Dr. Taber’s column to keep up with the fishing news.
Bottom fishing also attracted paying customers to the area. Middlesex County already had a solid infrastructure throughout the county that supported a seasonal sport-fishing fleet as hotels and boarding houses were located near where old steamboat landings had been. Visitors came and vacationed here, and many longed for a warm sunny day of bottom fishing on a charter boat in the river or bay.
The Rappahannock River oyster fishery provided solid wintertime work for a man and his log canoe or deadrise workboat. The boat also served many oystermen in the spring and summertime as a way to earn money in the hook-and-line charter boat fishery.
The Fishing Line column focused on the charter boat fisheries and provided weekly publicity for captains willing to send in their catch reports. After the steamboat era stopped in 1933, owners of Urbanna Lodge Hotel converted Donaldsons’ Steamboat Wharf on Urbanna Creek into a mooring dock for charter boat captains who specifically catered to hotel customers. The Urbanna Lodge captains provided Dr. Taber weekly fishing news for his column.
The June 20, 1957 report stated, “The following guests of the Urbanna Lodge (Hotel) fishing the past week: Mr. and Mrs. L.G. Thornton and party of Richmond Va., fished on Captain J.F. Crockett’s party boat. On the same day, Captain Melvin Dize had the following party: H.W. Hawthorne of Richmond, Va., F.H. Randall of Porstmouth, Va. and Mr. and Mrs. C.E. Filliaux of Baltimore, Md. They fished below Towles Point (on Rappahannock River.)”
His column gave tips on the best baits for the season. In July of 1957, his column stated, “On Sunday morning H.R. Menzer of Washington, D.C., and Urbanna, using shrimp for bait, fishing at Hoghouse Bay, and on the north side of the river on Towles Point. The following fish were caught; 1 pig fish, 1 hardhead and 40 spot. Several of the spot were the largest we have seen this year.”
Dr. Taber introduced many fishermen through his column to Chesapeake Bay fishing and Deltaville charter boat fishing. A 1957 column stated that “On July 4th Capt. Hobart Earman of Deltaville with D.F. Rudicell and family from Charles City County fished the bay. They caught 136 fish—spot, hardheads and trout. On Friday, Capt. Earman had O.P. Johnson and a party of three from West Point, Va. They caught 311 fish—spot, hardheads, and trout.
On August 23, 1963, Captain Howard McNamara of Deltaville fishing with W.A. Luckett and a party from Richmond fished at Deep Rock in the Chesapeake Bay. They caught 20 gallons of spot, trout and mullet, stated the Fishing Line.
The Syringa and Locklies Creek area was also covered in the column. Also the 1963 column stated that “On Sunday, Mr. and Mrs. Dickie Bridgers of Syringa had the following guest on a fishing trip: Mr. and Mrs. Orvin Wittig of Broadway, Va., Mr. and Mrs. Danny Shoemaker and Mr. Stewart Whezel of Bergton, Va. They all fished at Butlers Hole with Captain Gilbert Johnson of Locklies. They caught 154 pan size trout, 65 spot and some sugar toads and blues (fish) were caught. On Monday, the same group fished at Butlers Hole with Captain William Miller of Locklies and 450 fish were caught, 385 were trout.
Dr. Taber’s Fishing Line column covered the spring and summer bottom fishing seasons and fall and wintertime fishing seasons, and political issues surrounding sport-fishing. “Rock for Sports-fishing” was a slogan used at the end of many of his columns, designed to encourage the state to allow the recreational sport-fishing of rockfish. Recreational fishing for rockfish was eventually legalized.
The Fishing Line column ushered in a new era in Middlesex County. By the 1950s, the steamboat days were long gone and folks moving here wanting to live near and enjoy the river atmosphere were significant factors in the economic direction of the county.
A couple of decades later, the new modern year-around waterfront landowner and the escalation of waterfront land values enabled Middlesex County to be financially sound into the 21st century. New schools and economic stability stemmed from the growth around the water. Many of those new landowners were introduced to Middlesex as children fishing aboard a local party boat. Dr. Taber’s Fishing Line column inspired many to come, fish here and see the beauty of Middlesex.
Bristow said in his talk in 1976 that the only time he ever saw Dr. Taber “tear up” was in 1959 when the column writer was surprised with an honor from the Urbanna Booster’s Club. On that occasion, Dr. Taber was presented an engraved bowl in recognition of his efforts to boost Urbanna through his fishing column.
The final article in this three-part series will deal with the impact Dr. Taber’s $286,000 gift (Taber Trust) to the Town of Urbanna in 1966 has made on the community.
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