The suspense didn't last long during the grand prize drawing for the state's annual fishing contest Saturday.
With the rip of an envelope and a whoop of delight, the first of five contestants on stage at Sandy Point State Park converted a 40.8-inch striped bass into an 18-foot Tracker boat and trailer combination. David Wilhelm, a 37-year-old auto shop owner from Perryville, took top honors at the Maryland Fishing Challenge, an event that attracted nearly 1,500 entrants from 17 states.
Wilhelm caught the fish near Calvert Cliffs while fishing with friends on Mother's Day.
"I won a coffeepot at a bull roast once, but this is the biggest thing I've ever won," said Wilhelm, who couldn't stop smiling.
Wilhelm's 10-year-old son, Anthony, was a proxy for another angler in the final five, Greg Howell, who caught a 43-inch striped bass on the same day that was good for $1,500 in prizes from Bill's Outdoors World at Deep Creek Lake.
The three other finalists - Dan Baker, Joan Putt and Norm Bogarde - won prize packages ranging from $500 to $1,000.
For the fifth year, no one caught the tagged striped bass known as "Diamond Jim," which was worth as much as $25,000. More than 150 tagged fish were released up and down the Chesapeake Bay over the course of the three-month contest, and several "impostors" were caught. But the fish carrying the tag number that matched the number kept in a Department of Natural Resources strongbox was never reeled in.
This year, the Diamond Jim component of the Maryland Fishing Challenge was dedicated to Bill Burton, the former Evening Sun outdoors writer who died last month at the age of 82. Earlier in the day, Anne Arundel County named the Fort Smallwood Park fishing pier for Burton, who wrote about the outdoors for a half century, and a children's fishing derby was held there in his honor. Last month, the state designated the two fishing piers over the Choptank River outside Cambridge and 26 surrounding acres the Bill Burton Fishing Piers State Park.