Tautog mark catches angler by surprise

November 03, 2005|By CANDUS THOMSON

Gary Halbeisen will be eating his state record this weekend with a little garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Last Saturday, the Bel Air angler reeled in a 9-pound tautog -- small by ocean standards but the largest ever recorded on the Chesapeake Bay.

"It was quite a surprise," said Halbeisen, 58, a defense contractor in Anne Arundel County. "It's just beginning to sink in."

He was one of a party of nine fishermen aboard Capt. Jim Brincefield's charter boat, Jil Carrie. They were chumming at the target ship at the Middle Grounds, just off Point Lookout.

Halbeisen was drift fishing with a razor clam and just a bit of split shot on his line, hoping to attract a striped bass.

All of the sudden, "He hit it. I set the hook and he began to run. I set it again and it's a good thing. I only caught the corner of his mouth. I horsed him up. I didn't want to give him much of a chance," he said. "The mate [T.J. Reiber] started yelling, `We have a 'tog, we have a 'tog.' I had no idea what he was talking about."

Brincefield did.

"I've caught small ones but nothing this size," he said. "I'd like to say we were targeting tautog but it was a freak accident."

Halbeisen admitted he didn't look overjoyed in photos snapped right after the catch.

"I'm a fair-weather fisherman and it was cold, about 34 degrees," he said, laughing.

The tautog, checked in at Rick's Marine at Point Lookout, was the size of a robust newborn: 25 inches long, with a 15-inch girth.

State fisheries biologist Marty Gary took time during his day off to meet Halbeisen in the parking lot of his employer, Northrup-Grumman, in Linthicum to certify the catch.

"They're not exactly common, so there wasn't a Chesapeake Bay category," Gary said. "He's established the benchmark for this species and it's a worthy one for the bay."

The Maryland record for an ocean-going tautog, set in 1980, is 19 pounds, 8 ounces.

For Brincefield, the son of a son of a sailor, "It just goes to show you what happens when you fish every day. You get more swings at the fences when you're out there every day."

If you want to play home-run ball, get some green crabs or mussels and head for the reefs at Hollicutts Noose at the end of Kent Island, or the stone piles off Tilghman Island or the sunken barges off Point No Point. Even The Rockpile off Kent Island might be a decent target when the temperatures drop.

"It's just a matter of salinity and temperature. There's no doubt those fish will be around there this winter," Gary said. "And remember, it takes a certain touch. The old saying is you have to set the hook two seconds before the bite."

Hanging it up

Roland Martin's last Bassmaster Classic was my third.

I'd like to say that my favorite mental snapshot of him came as he was fighting a massive slab of largemouth bass in the Louisiana Delta with the clock ticking down and the title on the line.

But I remember him standing in the media room in 2003, eating a hot dog, glistening in grease and slathered in mayonnaise, while proudly telling us how he wouldn't eat the roll because he was on the Atkins Diet.

No, wait, that wasn't my favorite image.

It was just before a two-bit fishing contest in Kentucky at the all-you-can eat, 4:30 a.m., continental breakfast in an economy motel lobby. Two bleary-eyed but obviously thrilled fans approached him for an autograph.

Martin, in the process of chilling his cold shoulder and turning on his heel, was stopped dead in his grumpy tracks when his soon-to-be wife bellowed, "Roland, stop being such an #&%$@* and get back here."

He meekly turned and signed as pretty as you please. Even spent a few moments talking shop before heading out to competition.

But maybe, just maybe, the best moment was Martin explaining at the 2001 Classic in New Orleans amid much laughter just how he managed to mismanage his time to finish 16th of 45 anglers.

Knowing he had less than eight hours from launch to weigh-in, Martin raced three hours to get to his secret spot at the southeastern tip of Louisiana. With refueling, it took him four hours against a pre-hurricane wind to get back.

Even if you're Roland Martin, that doesn't leave much time to put together a winning stringer. He didn't have to tell us that story, but he did.

Prickly, funny, profane, Martin stands as a larger-than-life bass fishing character.

This week, the wily angler who cut his teeth on Maryland's tidal waters and the Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge reservoirs knew his clock had run out on the pro circuit.

"It's time. I'm 65 and my fishing has gone to pot," Martin said in a typically blunt statement. "I haven't done very well. I'm a really proud person, but I came to the conclusion that I can no longer compete with guys like [Michael] Iaconelli because they're just fishing better than I am. It's just the consistently crummy fishing I've had lately."

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