Boss is gone, but Judge derby goes on

March 26, 2006|By CANDUS THOMSON

It was always about the kids.

Did they have enough bait? Were they getting enough to eat and drink? Was everyone wearing sunscreen? Could you hear laughter?

Donna Judge fussed like a mother hen each time she presided over the Joe Judge Fishing Derby, a day on the Chesapeake Bay for children and parents grieving the loss of a family member. The quiet little ones -- the tough customers -- got her undivided attention.

She had one day on the water each year to make a difference for those kids, and she worked it like it was her last.

On March 17, Judge died of cancer, a tough customer who wouldn't take no for an answer. She was 56.

Judge started the derby in 2000 and named it for her husband, an avid outdoorsman who died of cancer in January 1999 at 58.

Joe Judge owned Twin Ponds Duck Club, an Eastern Shore hunting lodge, won the 1986 Bahamas Billfish Championship and was a longtime friend to conservation groups. Donna Judge, an angler with international titles of her own, always insisted that her late husband was "right here on my shoulder" as the inspiration for the derby.

But as a driving force at Queen Anne's County Hospice, her efforts went far beyond that event. She helped create Camp New Dawn, a weekend sleepover camp on Kent Island for youngsters whose family members have died, and the Hospice Gala to raise money.

She was instrumental in getting land donated for the county's hospice center. A chunk of her heart, however, was always reserved for the derby and the people who made it possible.

Capt. Jim Brincefield donated his charter boat. In the days leading up to the event, Capt. Mark Galasso scouted for a can't-miss fishing spot. Coastal Conservation Association members, led by Sherm and Diane Baynard, acted as one-on-one first mates for the kids. And Harris Crab House on Kent Island served up a dockside cookout after the outing.

Judge was diagnosed in December 2004. Chemotherapy left her too weak to be on deck for last August's shindig. We all felt her absence.

The derby will go on this year, with one small change. On Aug. 2, a group of youngsters and their family members will take a boat ride, go fishing and have a cookout.

They will be the first participants in the Donna and Joe Judge Fishing Derby.

Honor for `Admiral'?

Naming things for people isn't always that easy.

It can get messy when someone feels left out or feels the honoree is not worthy. That's why a lot of school districts have dropped out of the name game when it comes to new schools.

But there's another name that deserves a place of honor in Maryland's fishing community, and Anne Arundel County officials can make things right in a hurry.

Attention, executive Janet Owens and parks chief Dennis Callahan, this lobbying is meant for you.

On May 13, the county will dedicate a new, $400,000 fishing pier at Downs Park in Pasadena, creating an opportunity for lots of shoreline fishermen and their kids to wet a line in the Chesapeake Bay.

The pier runs about 200 feet straight out from water's edge before turning to the southeast for its last 100 feet and ending in a T. The water out at the end is about 4 feet deep.

The Pasadena Sportfishing Group and its leader, Capt. George Benz, took the lead in making it happen, lobbying county officials for the past four years with the tenacity of a junkyard dog.

Appropriately, the group's annual children's fishing derby will "christen" the pier on dedication day.

It also seems appropriate that the pier should be named for Bill Burton, Maryland's outdoors writer emeritus and the "Admiral of the Chesapeake," as he was dubbed years ago by gubernatorial proclamation.

Why Burton and not some politician? Let us count the ways.

Although a New Englander by birth, Burton has written about the waters and woods of this state for more than half a century (for almost 38 years, he pounded a keyboard for The Evening Sun). Long before ESPN and OLN, Burton was host of an outdoors TV show. Many of today's sportsmen and women in their middle years grew up reading and watching him.

Burton and the pier both have a Pasadena address.

And, finally -- call me sentimental -- it would be really wonderful to see Burton and his young granddaughter, Mackenzie, walk out on that pier and cast into the bay. Seems simple, doesn't it?

Large controversy

Maryland's record largemouth bass weighed 11 pounds, 2 ounces.

Now, imagine a fish more than twice that size with a controversy to match.

That was John "Mac" Weakley's prize and headache rolled into one.

The Southern California man caught a huge largemouth on Monday: 25 pounds, 1 ounce. The fish surpassed the 74-year-old International Game Fish Association record of 22 pounds, 4 ounces.

But Weakley, who has been fishing for the record breaker for years, had a problem. After weighing the fish and taking pictures, he released it before the catch could be certified. When anglers took him to task for foul hooking the fish -- Weakley claims it was an accident -- he dropped his quest for the record books.

But what of the record? George Washington Perry, who went fishing in June 1932 and caught the record-setting fish in a Georgia lake, had even less documentation than Weakley: no photo, no mount and only a friend as witness.

Folks figure Perry, a poor farm boy, probably ate the evidence.

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