Marlin plus bass can add up to cash

OUTDOORS

August 04, 2002|By CANDUS THOMSON

Opens sesame.

This week is a competitive angler's paradise, whether your choice is bassin' on the Potomac or going offshore for the monsters of the deep.

The White Marlin Open - called the largest billfish tournament in the world - gets under way tomorrow in Ocean City. An estimated 370 boats will head out to sea, hoping to hook a trophy-sized fish big enough to take a portion of almost $2 million in prize money.

Then, on Thursday, 200 of the best bass fishermen in the world will be in Charles County for the BASSMASTER Northern Open, the first tournament of the new season under a new three-division, pro-am format.

So many fish. So little time.

For me, these tournaments and the ones that take place on the Chesapeake Bay are a reminder of Maryland's many terrific fishing opportunities. Toss in the freshwater action at Deep Creek Lake, the Gunpowder River and Morgan Run, and the state has a legitimate claim to the license plate motto "Fishing for Compliments."

Even the guys here in The Sun's sports department - known for their football and baseball knowledge - are boning up on ichthyology.

"What's the difference between a marlin and a bass?" asked Andy Knobel, one of my colleagues as we discussed this week's schedule.

"You only have to catch one marlin," replied "Woo" Dave Smith, keeper of punctuation and spelling on the copy desk.

Indeed.

Everyone will be looking for that one fish for a huge payday.

Last year, Tom Townes of Greensboro, N.C., cashed a check of $830,034 for catching the third-largest white marlin, a 68.5-pound fish. The angler with the largest white, John Raimondo of Newtown Square, Pa., won $721,589. Both men broke the world-record cash award given for a catch of a 79.5-pound white marlin.

Townes took a larger cut because he registered for the tournament at five skill levels, while Raimondo entered at four.

Jim Motsko, the founder and director of the tournament, said he expects to see a bump in prize money because more people are following Townes' lead.

It's not unrealistic that we'll hit $2 million," he said by phone from the tournament office. "We hear so much about the top white marlin not winning all the money, so more people seem to be entering across the board."

Lucky anglers don't need a white marlin to win money. Cash prizes also will be awarded for the largest blue marlin and, for the second year, largest tuna. And if no one brings in a blue over the 450-pound, 105-inch minimum (as happened last year), that money will be split by the white marlin winners.

Unless you've attended, it's hard to explain how a weigh-in could be so exciting. But it is.

Anglers can fish three out of five days. Almost everyone likes to go out the final day, so that leaves two.

But which two?

Going out the first day can make you the tournament guinea pig. Choose the wrong spot and you've wasted a day while warning everyone back at the marinas where not to fish. Sit in port and risk missing a heck of a bite somewhere.

"It's a little bit of strategy involved, yes," Motsko said.

But there's more. Smaller boats have to pick their spots based on the weather forecast. A run 75 miles offshore to one of the fish-filled, 1,000-fathom canyons can be uncomfortable and, in some cases, downright risky in strong south-southwest winds.

Two years ago, a majority of the competitors roared out on the first morning under horrendous blowing conditions, only to return within an hour, battered and queasy.

However, once out in the ocean, Motsko noted, "the fish don't know how big a boat you have. We've had people in little boats catch big fish and we've had people in real big boats catch no fish."

He is particularly proud of the tournament's catch-and-release rules, which have higher weight and length minimums than those set by the federal government. For that reason, 97 percent of the billfish caught at the Open are returned alive to the ocean.

The other big tournament this week also practices catch and release.

The BASSMASTER Northern Open is the first of three stops in this division, the others occurring on the St. Lawrence River in New York in September and the Hudson River in New York in October. Similar competitions are being held in the South and Midwest.

Trip Weldon, the tournament director for the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, calls the new Open schedule "the working man's professional trail," a pro-am arrangement that can lead to next year's BASSMASTER Tournament Trail and the 2003 BASS Masters Classic.

The total purse for pros is $242,200, with $50,000 of it going to the winner. The amateurs will divvy up $78,750.

Anglers will launch from Smallwood State Park at 6 a.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The weigh-in each day will be at 2 p.m.

For the final day, the field will be cut from 200 to 50, with Saturday's weight added to an angler's two-day total.

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