Larry Zarker: Tidewater Fisherman
How one guy does a lot of good work and still remembers to lead a fun and fulfilling life
Our friend Larry Zarker, the successful and well-liked CEO of the Building Performance Institute, is not afraid to bite off big vocational tasks. But when he’s ready for some time off, he knows exactly how to take time, relax the mind, and have some fun. One of Larry’s favorite avocations is fishing in the productive waters of Chesapeake Bay, a few miles east of his home in Kensington, Maryland.
I got wind recently of a friendly tussle of sorts between Larry and our shared friend Peter Troast, the cheerful proprietor of Energy Circle who makes his home on the chilly coast of Portland, Maine. Apparently Peter saw a social media photo of Larry showing off what Peter thought was a too-small fish. Larry and his wife Leslie pointed out that said fish had filled their frying pan nicely in a time of need. But Peter, in mock defensiveness, claimed that Maine fish are bigger than those of Chesapeake Bay. And Larry said, etc., etc……..
So you get the picture: a friendly example of fish stories run amok among friends. It’s all a pretty harmless case of point and counter-point, but I was charmed by this friendly tête à tête and thought you’d like to hear the details directly from the sources. And as a bonus, Larry has shared a recipe with us at the end of the article.
Chris Dorsi. Larry, I’ve heard that you have a habit of going fishing on your days off. Where do you like to go?
Larry Zarker. I really like the Northern Neck of Virginia where our friends Kim and George Haddow have a place. It is where the Potomac River meets the Chesapeake Bay. It is an amazing place at dawn when the sun rises over the Bay and the reed islands in front of the house.
CD. In the great debate between boating versus shore fishing, where do you stand?
LZ. I always prefer the boat but will fish from shore when dinner depends on it. In the boat, I like chasing seagulls. When they are diving, you know the Striped Bass (what we call Rockfish) or Bluefish are pushing bait fish up to the surface. That is an electric moment when you know the fish are converging on one area.
CD. I know you were raised in Kansas. Do they have fish there, and did you learn how to catch them?
LZ. I grew up lake fishing in the Midwest and caught a lot of Crappie, Largemouth Bass, and Perch. It was fun but was not as exciting as fly fishing or searching for stripers in the Bay.
CD. What do you think about catch-and-release fishing?
LZ. I totally respect C&R as it relates to fish that are endangered. We had an issue with overfishing of Striped Bass in the Chesapeake Bay back in the 1980’s. That led to a moratorium on keeping them. The population is back and is better managed now. I support the Native American notion of using what you catch and not wasting it.
I’m also a big fan of fly fishing and do that whenever I can. My favorite fly fishing trip so far was near Bend, Oregon on the Deschutes River.
CD. I’ve heard that our friend Peter Troast has occasionally made fun of your fishing exploits. Is this true? Do you have a plan to put him in his place?
LZ. Striped Bass have an amazing annual journey that includes early season spawning in the Chesapeake Bay and a short season of trophy size catches before the fish move up to New England. There they fatten up before migrating back south again for trophy fishing in the late fall in our part of the world. New England has a lot of sand eels to help fatten up the fish for their Fall migration back to the temperate climates in the Chesapeake Bay.
LZ. So the story is that it was late, late afternoon in November at our favorite spot in the Northern Neck of Virginia, on the Bay. We had no main course for dinner, and it was a 20-minute drive to the nearest store. I stayed out surf casting long enough to catch dinner. Leslie posted the photo on Facebook and Peter responded by saying “Is that even legal?” A cute post but it hardly mattered since we had a wonderful dinner given the circumstances and I did not have a boat to get out into the Bay to go out for the larger fish.
LZ. This was Peter’s response.
LZ. After this incident, we traveled to Cape Cod with friends and fished off the coast in my friend’s boat near Chatham, Maine. We caught some excellent Striped Bass who were fattening up on New England sand eels. Peter saw the photo on Facebook and responded, “Now that’s a fish! Let the record show that you needed to come to New England to not catch minnows.”
It’s a silly accusation since my friend Ben regularly fishes Chesapeake Bay and comes home with some amazing 30–36” Striped Bass both in the spring and the fall.
Peter Troast’s Defense
CD. Is there a reason that fishing your piece of coastline is inherently superior to Zarker’s tidewater haunts?
PT. The Chesapeake and Maine are the beginning and end of the striper migration, so we’re hugely dependent on Zarker’s nursery to spawn fish and send them our way. I’m not sure if I can blame Zarker’s fish slaying prowess for this, but we need more fish coming our way. It’s been tough going the last few years as fewer numbers get to us, and those that do are dispersed as water temperatures on the coast of Maine continue to rise.
My whining aside, I’d love to spend a morning with Larry showing him Small Point, Ragged Island, Sagadahoc Bay and the mighty Kennebec River. Stripers hate light, so fishing the coast of Maine means being on the water before the sun rises. Greeting the day in a small boat on the rocky coast of Maine is about as good a way to get things going as I could imagine.
CD. Do you and Larry ever fish together? Why or why not?
We haven’t yet, but Larry has a standing invitation to see what it’s like when your fish wraps the line around a lobster pot.
CD. Larry, if you were to cook something like a Striped Bass for dinner, how would you prepare it?
LZ. My favorite recipe for Striped Bass (our Rockfish) is to filet it and bake on a canola sprayed oven rack with aluminum foil underneath at 300 degrees F for about 15 minutes. Then prepare a mix of olive oil/melted butter/fresh garlic to spread over the fish. Turn the oven to high broil and broil it for about five minutes until the top surface is browned. Eat it immediately.