Angling for a prize

Tournament: Fishing lovers rise early for the season's first event, lured by money and camaraderie.

March 26, 2000|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Under a hazy half-moon, they began streaming through the gates of Piney Run Park at 4 a.m. yesterday. Within an hour, the launch area of the park's lake was dotted with the bobbing lights of boats. Anglers readied to cast their lines in search of a fish worth $10,000.

More than 475 fishermen converged on the park in southeast Carroll County for the 18th annual Early Bird Fishing Tournament, the season's first event.

Some were lured by the quiet recesses of the tree-rimmed lake, surrounded by horse pastures and rolling fields.

For others, the bait was the prospect of catching a tagged yellow perch that would bring a $10,000 prize.

Friday, 10 yellow perch were tagged for the tournament and released in the lake by the Maryland Recreation and Parks Association, a private, nonprofit group that supports outdoor recreation.

One was worth $10,000; the others were worth $100 each. To enhance the mystery and to prevent cheating, none of the tournament organizers knew which tag number was worth the big money. The winning number was sealed in an envelope to be opened only after a phone call to the insurance company.

Lloyd's of London, the famous firm that also insures celebrity body parts, insured the contest when it began in 1982. But someone caught the $10,000 fish that first year, a feat likened to finding a needle in a haystack, and the British company pulled out.

Maryland Recreation and Parks Association now pays a $1,000 annual premium to SCA Promotion of Dallas to insure the valuable catch. The top-prize fish hasn't been caught since Lloyd's had to pay out.

"I'd be delighted if someone caught that fish," Loren Lustig, Piney Run Park manager who calls himself a fishing addict, said just before the tournament. "It really increases the excitement and makes the whole day a little more fun."

At 6 a.m. yesterday, the quest began.

"Imagine trying to catch one fish in this whole lake," said Keith Fuhrmann, 18, of Frederick. "It's not happening."

Fuhrmann's father, Paul, was hoping his son could make it happen. The 42-year-old shaved his beard for good luck, as he did the day he got married, on his first wedding anniversary and when his oldest son graduated high school. The pair joked that perhaps a beaver near the dam had eaten the big-money fish.

With a bucket of worms, a little artificial bait and "the mystery chunk" -- even they weren't sure what it was -- attached to their fishing rods, father and son hopped off a shuttle boat on the far side of the lake.

"There's a lot riding on this day. But with a shaved face and my No. 1 fish catcher over there," Paul Fuhrmann said, pointing to his son, "I can't lose."

Across the lake, Raymond Myers of Silver Spring was fishing for anything that would bring in a prize. "There's some pretty big fish in here," he said as he waited for a nibble on his two lines, sitting quietly on a bucket with a cooler of "liquid snacks" nearby.

As for the $10,000 fish, "They've been courting that one for about 15 years now," he said with a smile.

By noon, all Myers had hooked was a rowboat that had drifted too close to the shore and gotten tangled in his line.

Seven-year-old Nicole Talbert didn't need prizes to make her day. The girl from Lisbon with a big smile, smattering of freckles and orange-juice mustache doubled over with giggles recounting what happened to her bait. "When I cast out with a minnow, the minnow flew off but his lips were still on the hook. And then I found another minnow that had his lips ripped off and he looked like this," she said, scrunching her lips up into her mouth. Again, she dissolved into giggles.

As the noontime end of the tournament approached, a crowd gathered at the weigh station, where Jim Gronaw measured the slippery and often flopping catch.

"Sorry guys. These are nice fish, but you've got to be 5 pounds to get into the money," he told two men in cowboy hats who had reeled in several catfish. "Good eating, though."

The weigh station also served as tournament headquarters. There, anglers snacked -- about a dozen chili dogs had been sold before 7 a.m. -- checked the scoreboard and swapped stories about fish they had seen or heard others had caught.

Rumors swirled that someone had caught a tiger muskie, a large and aggressive fish considered the barracuda of fresh-water fishing.

Piney Run was stocked three or four years ago with muskie, but no one had caught one that met the Department of Natural Resources' minimum length of 36 inches.

"They are well-equipped to do their job, which is to be the top predator on the food chain," Lustig said. "They have rows and rows of sharp teeth."

The muskie rumors were true. Daryl Reed of Sykesville pulled in a 38-inch, 14-pound tiger muskie to win $700 for the largest fish caught from a boat. It took Reed and his buddies -- Mike Duncan of Eldersburg and Jim Raine of Sykesville -- about five minutes to rein in the monster fish.

Garry Heilman of Manchester took home $900 for sweeping the shoreline category with the three largest fish caught from land, including a 16 1/8-inch, 2.62-pound catfish that he planned to fry for dinner. He split the money with a friend, Eugene Woodie of Taneytown, who was fishing with him.

The $250 prizes went to Adam Smith of Baltimore for the largest perch; 10-year-old Russell Barnes Jr. of Reisterstown for the largest trout; Eddie Glaeser of Owings Mills for the largest catfish; Doug Nalley of Hagerstown for the largest crappie; and 10-year-old Nick Crispino Jr. of Sykesville for the largest bluegill.

None of the $100 tagged fish was caught.

And by the end of the tournament, with a light drizzle beginning to fall, the elusive $10,000 yellow perch still swam, beaver permitting.

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