Angling for $1 million, reeling in record

September 10, 2006|By CANDUS THOMSON

The 65 striped bass tagged Diamond Jim proved as elusive this summer as William Donald Schaefer's manners, a winning Orioles season and Rush Limbaugh's Viagra prescription.

But even though no one won $25,000 by catching a neon-green tagged rockfish during the "Maryland $1,000,000 Fishing Challenge," 135 anglers reeled in other tagged fish to qualify for the prize drawings at 10 a.m. Saturday at Annapolis City Dock.

They will be playing for $1 million (winning odds 1 in 65), one of two pickup trucks, a motorboat and trailer and a bass boat and trailer.

But riddle me this: In a state that boasts premier TV game-show host Pat Sajak as its homeboy, why is Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. the emcee of this event? Oh, I forgot, Sajak isn't running for re-election.

No doubt, the City Dock doings will beat last year's inaugural tournament prize drawing, where tension mounted as one contestant after another opened envelopes stuffed with ... a gift certificate. It's a wonder someone didn't pull up lame with a paper cut.

"This year, a lot of energy went into this," says Marty Gary of the Department of Natural Resources. "How do we make a better contest than last year? I didn't know; I'm a biologist. So we listened to everyone: the rec anglers, the charter captains, the sponsors."

Catches during the 13-week contest came in all but two counties and Baltimore City.

"We wanted to be able to show folks Maryland's fishing diversity - in geography, in species and in types of anglers. It ranges from little kids to a guy in a wheelchair who fishes six days a week," says Gary.

The Diamond Jim contest grew out of a 2004 meeting with anglers, tackle shop owners and guides to discuss how to reverse declining fishing license sales.

"I'm not saying this is curing the problem. The long-term is a comprehensive marketing plan. But in the short term, this helps generate some excitement," Gary says. "I hope somebody wins $1 million."

Not all winning fish wear tags, however.

On Labor Day, Russell Knapp was chumming for striped bass in "The Triangle" off Point Lookout, when he hooked up with a croaker that bent the rod and broke the state - and maybe world - record.

Knapp, 51, a biologist from Severn, reeled in a 23-inch, 6.52-pound fish with a girth of nearly 18 inches. His catch bested a mark of 6 pounds, 3 ounces set in 1980.

"I guess that croaker must have thought it was a rockfish," Knapp says, laughing.

The International Game Fish Association recognizes the world record Micropogonias undulatus as a 5-pound, 8-ounce fish landed at Dauphin Island, Ala., in 2000.

Knapp, a self-described "fishing nut," has been fishing for 40 years, much of it offshore. He swears his catch is no big deal.

"If it was a 2,000-pound marlin, an 80-pound striped bass, a 22-, 23-pound flounder, great. This was just a croaker," Knapp says. "But with so much bad news about the health of the bay and the fish, this is a great way to show how many fishing opportunities there are."

Gary, the state fisheries biologist who certified the catch, says despite Knapp's modesty, his catch is a big deal: "The record lasted 26 years. It's the biggest darn croaker I've ever seen. This record might stick around for a while."

A laboratory analysis of the croaker's inner ear bones will determine its age.

Menhaden matter

Only three of the 15 states of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission - Maryland, Virginia and New Jersey - will hold hearings on the revised five-year plan to cap Omega Protein's commercial menhaden operation in the Chesapeake Bay while scientists study localized depletion of the stock.

The plan, as most of you know, came from the fertile brain of Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine only after Omega refused to comply with ASMFC's original cap.

Maryland's hearing will be from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sept. 21 at the Annapolis Radisson Hotel, 210 Holiday Court, just off Riva Road.

Virginia's concerned citizens will convene in a phone booth with an unlisted number in the southwestern corner of the state (just kidding). The hearing is at 7 p.m. Sept. 20 at Northumberland High School, 6234 Northumberland Highway, Heathsville.

Stripers matter, too

The state will hold a hearing Tuesday on an ASMFC plan to gather more accurate census data on the striped bass population.

Regulators believe that while the striper population is abundant, over the past several years as the number of female spawning fish has declined, fishing mortality - more specifically the number of discarded fish - has increased.

Of the 33.3 million pounds of stripers caught on the East Coast in 2004 by recreational and commercial anglers, almost 37 percent were discards. The breakdown was: 46 percent recreational harvest, 17.5 percent commercial harvest, 26.5 percent recreational discards and 10 percent commercial discards.

The ASMFC wants a two-year study to zero in on the number of fish being discarded with an eye toward managing and reducing that number.

The hearing is from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at DNR's Annapolis headquarters, 580 Taylor Ave.

Comments also will be accepted until the end of the business day, Sept. 27, at www.asmfc.org.

Safety warning

As a hedge against the accidental spread of deadly chronic wasting disease, Maryland wildlife officials have ordered deer and elk hunters who go out of state to known contaminated areas to park their carcasses at the border.

Specifically, they must remove the tissues of the animal known to carry the highest concentrations of CWD: brain, spinal column and lymph glands.

Fourteen states and two Canadian provinces have detected CWD in deer and elk, with West Virginia being the closest site.

Paul Peditto, director of the Wildlife and Heritage Service, says entire states aren't subject to the order, just those areas with positive tests.

If in doubt, check the map at DNR's on-line hunting guide or call 410-260-8540.

candy.thomson@baltsun.com

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