Steve Chaconas has been a car salesman, bartender, substitute teacher and a surgical supplies representative. More recently, he was a radio and TV talk show host. He is still on the air (AM1050) one day a week and writes for several publications covering the BASSMASTERS Tournament trail for radio and newspapers.
His love, however, for the past eight years has been bass fishing. A certified bass guide, Chaconas provides clients with guided fishing trips on the historic and scenic Potomac River.
The Potomac River has come a long way from the days of polluted waterways. Ever since President Lyndon Johnson called the river a "national disgrace" in the mid 1960's, and pushed for clean water legislation, the river has been thriving.
"This [legislation] prevented dumping into waterways and with the introduction of subaquatic vegetation; the river has turned into a world class bass fishery. With river grasses, sunken wrecks, and creeks, there are fishing opportunities for all skill levels," Chaconas said.
In fact, the BASSMASTERS Tournament Trail has been held here for the last 13 years, and Chaconas, who has been fishing on the Potomac since the mid 1960's, said that the Potomac boasts some of the finest largemouth bass fishing in the country.
"I had one client who flew in from California, spent the day fishing and took a flight home that evening," Chaconas said.
Many of his clients are business people who take out their own clients.
"It's a great way to build relationships. For some people it's replacing golf; it's much more relaxing," Chaconas said.
Businessmen aren't the only people who take advantage of his services; Chaconas has also taken out plenty of children, women, and father and daughter/son teams. He particularly enjoys teaching children and National Bass Guide Service specializes in group trips and working with kids. They also participates in many charity tournaments to encourage fishing among youth.
CHACONAS MEETS HIS CLIENTS at the Belle Haven Marina. No fishing happens until passengers are given complete safety instructions and information about where everything is stowed.
"Everything has its place," Chaconas said and shows off the many compartments in his Skeeter bass boat. After the safety lesson, riders are asked to put on glasses or goggles as they travel at high speeds down the river. The ride, however, is short, there's no need to travel far to find the largemouth bass that Chaconas and his clients are looking for. After fishing the river as long as he has, Chaconas knows exactly where the fish will be biting.
Once the boat is stopped, experienced fishermen will start fishing. Chaconas will work with novice fishermen, explaining how to cast and talk about what type of rod and lures he's using. He will show them where to cast. It's not long before Chaconas catches his first catch; he will bring it into the boat and carefully remove the hook. He explains that the fish should only be touched around the mouth area; touching their scales may remove some of their protective covering. No fish are kept; they are caught and released. With any luck, the person taking the tour will be catching fish themselves and they, too, will experience the thrill of "getting a bite."
"I couldn't believe it only took 10 minutes from my office to the marina, and another 10 minutes to catch my first fish. You were very patient with me and guided me to catch many fish. I even lost count; which is rare for me since I am an accountant. Not only did I catch a lot of fish, I also caught a 6-pound, 4-ounce beauty," said David Brandt, one of Chaconas' clients.
"I knew we were into some fish when we hit the spot on the opposite shore and starting casting into the sunken wreckage. What I didn't know was there was a 4.2 pound largemouth bass, my largest yet, with my name on it. Pulling that baby out the deep was a total hit, and so was watching it swim off to freedom after a spell in your live well. Using the Mann's Spinnerbait was easy, and productive," said Carroll Hauptle, another client.
NOT ONLY DOES CHACONAS help people how to handle fish correctly, but he is a watchdog of the river. He will be participating in the snakehead roundup that will be held at the end of July; the appearance of an increasing number of that species is causing him some concern.
Chaconas has an aerator on board so that if he catches a weak or injured fish, he will put it into his aerator to help revive it. He's also aware of changes in the river.
"I'm concerned about the lack of grasses," said Chaconas, who's seen a depletion of the grasses in the area between National Airport and Broad Creek. He's not sure if it's because of the large amount of rain, the pollution or the bridge construction.
Becoming a bass guide is no easy feat. Chaconas said that he was required to obtain a U.S. Coast Guard boat license, Potomac River fishing guide license, Maryland license and a boat license; he also has to secure licenses for the clients who take his tour.
Chaconas continues to fish local tournaments and is often asked by visiting anglers to show them the river before a tournament. His experience and knowledge and his ability to communicate makes him a good instructor. He also speaks at many different types of seminars. Chaconas takes people out year round and said that most people don't realize that the Potomac has excellent winter fishing.
"If I teach somebody to fish, they will be hooked," Chaconas said.