Spring tourney anglers hit rocks hard

On The Outdoors

May 23, 1999|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

For 16 seasons, the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association has held its annual spring tournament on Chesapeake Bay. In the early years, while rockfish were recovering from overfishing, the focus was bluefish, the big choppers that harried baitfish from Point Lookout northward.

"During the rockfish moratorium in the 1980s, the big blues usually were in the bay in numbers by the third weekend in May, and this was the annual bluefish tournament," said Richard Novotny, executive director of the MSSA.

"But bluefish numbers have gone down, rockfish have been declared recovered and now this is basically a rockfish tournament."

Despite a decline in entries from some 1,500 boats 10 years ago, the spring tournament is the largest in Maryland waters,this year drawing more than 2,000 anglers on more than 660 boats.

"This is an all-amateur tournament," Novotny said. "No professionals or charter captains are allowed."

But last weekend the amateurs proved up to the challenge, checking in more than 300 rockfish and releasing hundreds more despite windy weather on Saturday. The top 45 fish registered were 36 inches or longer.

"Saturday was rough. There were 2- to 3-foot waves north of the Bay Bridge," said Novotny. "And with a northeast wind, down south where the bay opens up quite a bit, there were 4- to 6-footers near Solomons."

On Sunday, the wind was up early and dropped away through the afternoon. But by then the tournament fleet was chasing Saturday's biggest rock, a 41.5-incher caught by James M. Diven of Baltimore.

"We got into this tournament thinking we didn't have a chance," said Diven, who works at Bethlehem Steel and was fishing with three friends with close ties to the Sparrows Point plant. "I'm not much into trolling; I like chumming."

So Diven relied on Buck Seivers, recently retired from the steel company, to set up the rods and lures on Diven's 31-foot Silverton, Top-Peg III.

Around 2 p.m., while trolling east across the shipping channel near buoy 72A south of Hooper's Island Light, the winning fish hit a parachute in 107 feet of water. John Dixon, recently retired from the fire department after being assigned to the Bethlehem plant for many years, reeled it in.

"The weather was terrible; a couple of times we almost broached," said Diven, 57. "But we managed and won it by an eighth of an inch, and it was a long weekend waiting for Sunday and the final weigh-in."

Diven, whose crew won more than $26,000, plans to retire and spend his time fishing with his wife, Peggy, and their seven grandchildren.

"That's 3 years, 11 months and 10 days away," he said Wednesday. "But who's counting?"

Seven of the top 10 fish were caught Saturday, according to MSSA figures, and 32 of the top 45 were checked in at Calvert Marina in Solomons, indicating that most of the successful anglers were fishing the lower bay.

Robert P. Blasetti of Catonsville spent the weekend monitoring radio traffic and chasing Diven's big catch -- and Sunday morning he thought he had caught and passed it.

Blasetti, a business manager for UPS, was fishing with three friends on his 25-foot Proline, Hooker, south of Solomons near Point No Point, when Reggie Secola caught the biggest fish of his life.

"We had six lines out with white bucktails and parachutes, when a rod went down hard and I handed it to Reggie," said Blasetti. "I knew Reggie had never caught a fish like that, so I was kidding him in the back of the boat, you know, really putting the needle in."

But when Secola brought the fish to the net, the kidding stopped.

"We thought we had it," Blasetti said. "We knew 41.5 was the biggest for Saturday, and when I measured Reggie's fish I got 42 inches, twice -- but it's a game of fractions of inches."

Blasetti said he measured the big striper from the vee in its tail to the tip of its lip, including the curvature of the body contour. Tournament officials measure a flat length between vertical markers set at the fork of the tail and the lip, and the difference was an eighth of an inch and about $18,000.

James "Ronnie" Shaw of Charles H. Shaw and Son home builders in Howard County, took a different approach and won the catch-and-release division of the tournament with 70 rockfish over two days.

"We didn't start out going for most releases," said Shaw, who was fishing the Western Shore edges from Holland Point to the Towers with three friends from the Clarksville area. "But we were catching fish and we decided to list them all just to see what would happen."

While trolling in 37- to 42-foot depths, he said, they caught 28 or 30 fish between 8: 30 a.m. and 9: 30 a.m. Saturday.

"So we just kept it up," said Shaw, adding that the largest fish they caught was just under 32 inches and the majority were between 18 and 26 inches. "We caught 46 the first day and 24 the next day.

"We caught fish on every lure I had on the boat, but mostly on parachutes and bucktails."

Novotny said catches in the release division are reported on an honor system, but that all winners "must take and pass" a polygraph test before their catches are certified.

"It was just two good fishing days," said Shaw, who applauded fisheries managers for taking a hard line with the five-year moratorium in 1985 and rebuilding the rockfish population in the years since.

"It reminds me of the old days fishing with my dad 20 years ago and we filled the boat. But these days, even though we release them, those days are rare."

Pub Date: 5/23/99

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