Diamonds again anglers' best friend

Fishing

May 31, 2006|By CANDUS THOMSON | CANDUS THOMSON,SUN REPORTER

ON THE CHOPTANK RIVER -- More than 40 years ago, Boog Powell found his major league progress slowed by a first baseman nicknamed Diamond Jim.

Yesterday, another Diamond Jim gave Powell a tough time, unceremoniously slapping the Orioles legend with its tail and leaving him soggy.

"This is one of the few times you'll see me do this," said Powell, an avid fisherman, as he let the feisty, 28-inch striped bass slide through his fingers and into the depths.

Before the escape, a state biologist decorated that fish and four others with slender, neon-green tags. The state will tag and release five stripers each week for 13 weeks as part of "The $1 Million Fishing Challenge: The Return of Diamond Jim."

Catch one of them between Saturday at midnight and the next Friday, and you'll win $25,000. (Just don't remove the tag until a state biologist arrives to certify it.)

Why Diamond Jim? For three years, starting in 1956, the state ran a fishing contest by that name in which anglers looked for a single striped bass with a diamond-studded gold tag in its lower jaw.

Sports Illustrated devoted a page to it and a television starlet, Joanne Bayes, flew down from New York to purr, "Look before you eat," to kick off the contest.

No one won that first year or the last one. But in between, a Bethlehem Steel worker, Bill Simmons, caught the sparkling fish and the $25,000 prize.

In addition to the 65 fish named Jim, the Department of Natural Resources will be tagging between 1,000 and 1,500 fish statewide - from Garrett County's Deep Creek Lake to rivers on the Eastern Shore -with dark green markers. Striped bass, white perch, croaker, trout, crappie, sunfish, walleye and largemouth and smallmouth bass have been targeted.

Unlike last year's tournament in which anglers with tagged fish competed for a luck-of-the-draw chance at cash prizes up to $1 million, this one has guaranteed prizes ranging from pickup trucks to boats to cash.

On Friday at 9 a.m., the top prizes will be on display at Annapolis City Dock.

Marty Gary, a DNR biologist, acknowledged the state had a lot to learn after the "foot-in-the-door" contest last season, which resulted in the awarding of many gift certificates, but no cash.

"We talked to anglers and charter captains and others in the business. We listened to everyone," he said. "This year's contest is a compilation of several different contests, the best of the best rolled into one."

To signify a new era, the state recruited Powell to throw out the first fish.

A flotilla of three charter boats, led by Capt. Buddy Harrison, left Tilghman Island at noon to rendezvous at the mouth of the Choptank River with a small, state-owned boat holding 10 robust striped bass.

Powell gingerly stepped from one deck to another and helped biologist Beth Versack wrestle the fish chosen to be the first Diamond Jim from a net into a wooden cradle. With the burly Powell trying to maintain a grip on the wiggling fish, Versack used a small surgical instrument to attach a tag to the fish's side.

As TV cameras rolled on nearby boats, Powell lifted the fish in one motion and held it aloft. Then, he lowered it over the side and it bolted. Twice more he aided Versack before calling it a day.

Powell laughed as he recalled that this was not his first encounter with a Diamond Jim. Slugger "Diamond Jim" Gentile, the Orioles first baseman in the early 1960s, forced the slow-of-foot Powell to play left field.

"That sucker," Powell joked, "kept me out of the big leagues for five years."

For tournament details, go to www.dnr.state.md.us.

candy.thomson@baltsun.com

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