Liberty Reservoir near Eldersburg is an equal-opportunity fishing hole. Normally one considers Maryland's larger reservoirs as the domainof boat anglers, but last weekend Liberty proved that shore-siders also have a chance.
In the first of a planned annual series of $10,000 Liberty Lake Classics, John Snyder of Woodstock, Baltimore County, won the $5,000 first prize, thanks to a 4.37-pound largemouth. It was taken from a boat, as expected. But what wasn't expected was the second-place finish of Mark Bowers of Pikesville, Baltimore County, who claimed $2,000 for a 3.65-pounder taken from shore.
Before the details of the three-day affair, a few more surprises on the classic:
Of the 69 bass weighed in, 63 were released alive;remarkable when one considers bank fishermen don't have live wells the boat anglers use to keep their catch frisky. In the classic, they overcame this by putting fish they figured could be winners in buckets or ice chests filled with water. So much for fears the classic would be a killer.
The turnout was surprisingly low, some of which canbe blamed on pretournament complaints of some organized bass fishermen who didn't think Liberty could stand the pressure of a big tournament; also, that a contest with such big money on the line couldn't beregulated to rule out cheating.
Only 38 boats and 35 shore fishermen participated, which meant a hefty loss for promoter Chuck Motsko,who intends to try again next year.
"We had something to prove inthe first one," said Motsko. "And we did. Everyone who fished was pleased with the way it was run, and will come back. Those who didn't fish saw that we can run a clean tournament, and will probably sign upnext year -- especially bank fishermen who don't get much of a chance to win money in tournaments.
"We think it's a winner in the longrun, but it takes time to get established."
To insure the integrity of the contest, Motsko arranged for expensive ($250 each) polygraph tests for cash winners. Fish were also physically and electronically checked to ensure they were freshly caught.
Thankfully, pretourney hints that some regular Liberty bass chasers would picket classic headquarters failed to materialize. After being informed of the live-release figures, and participation in the tournament, Department of Natural Resources' freshwater fisheries chief Bob Bachman said such affairs shouldn't hurt Liberty's bass population -- especially at this time of year when cooler weather and waters contribute to keeping fish alive until release.
The only possible impact, said Bachman, could be a large number of boaters tying up the launching ramp at the expense of non-participants. As for cash prizes for fishing, that's a different issue -- a philosophical one -- he said, and it depends on individual thinking. His concerns center on impact on the resource, and in a tournament like this, he has no worries.
In third place wasGene Zinkhan of Rosedale, Baltimore County, with a 3.63-pound largemouth worth $1,500. He also took a fifth-place smallmouth of 2.73 pounds for another $500. Incidentally, going into the final day, Zinkhan and boat mates Dave Emge and Charlie Brown led for the top four fish,but their luck slacked off.
Charles Burleson of Finksburg won $1,500 fourth place cash for a 2.94-pound smallmouth. Biggest fish of any species was a 12-pound landlocked rockfish landed by Jeff Stinchcomb of Randallstown, Baltimore County, a boat mate of Snyder. But by state regulation, rockfish cannot be involved in any tournament becauseof the questionable status of the species.
Trophies for fish in the non-cash categories went to Randy Hill of Sykesville for walleyes of 5.55 and 2.81 pounds, and Larry Hill for a 3.19-pounder; Hill again for a crappie of 1.04 pounds; Dave Dearholt of Baltimore for a .36-pound crappie, and Dave Williams of Hampstead for a .35-pound crappie; Bob Falter of Arbutus, Baltimore County, won all three carp trophies for fish of 2.07, 1.98 and 1.95 pounds; Stinchcomb for a 4.36-poundcatfish; Dave Merrill of Eldersburg, a 4.28-pound cattie, and Ernie Testor of Linthicum, Anne Arundel, a 4.08-pounder.
Bowers' winningbass came on a green metal flake plastic worm of 6 inches, rigged with a one-quarter ounce slip sinker in 20 to 25 feet of water near Nicodemus Bridge. He made the catch in midmorning Sunday, and the money will come in handy for Bowers, who fishes the reservoir at least oncea week. His wife, Dana, is expecting.
Shoresider Snyder, who has no boat but fishes from the banks about once a week, signed up with his 10-year-old son Drew. He often uses a white spinnerbait with chartreuse tail, but scored on a 4-inch live shiner near Oakland Mills. Snyder said he also lost a "money fish" when it tossed a spinnerbait several feet from shore.