The big one got away again in the Maryland Fishing Challenge's Diamond Jim contest.
In an event that has never awarded its top prize of $25,000, none of the 11 fishermen who caught one of the 600 striped bass tagged this summer by the Maryland Department of Resources had the number corresponding to the Diamond Jim.
Yet, for the first time in the seven-year history, those who caught what the DNR call "impostors" split the prize money, with each taking home more than $2,200. In the past, those who caught "impostors" were given a $500 consolation prize.
The announcement came Saturday at Sandy Point State Park in Annapolis, with more than 1,000 looking on. It was also announced that the Maryland Fishing Challenge will be named in honor of longtime Baltimore Sun outdoors columnist Lefty Kreh beginning next year. Kreh, now 87, attended this year's festivities.
Four of the winners came from the Baltimore area: Glenn Gross and Mimmo Ciccari of Baltimore, Nick Szokoli of Cockeysville and Dan Turner ofEllicott City.
Gross was fishing off Cove's Point on Aug. 31 when he caught a tagged 24-inch rockfish. He was the last to catch a tagged fish, and even though he had to share the prize money, Gross was ecstatic.
"From the moment I saw that tag sticking out of the fish's gut, the whole process has been exciting," said Gross, who plans to use part of the prize money to throw a pizza party for his staff at the Weinberg Housing Resource Center, a homeless shelter where he is the assistant director.
Gross didn't even mind taking the polygraph test the DNR has administered to insure the fish was caught by a recreational fisherman. According to Tom O'Connell, director of the DNR's fisheries service, five of the tagged fish caught this summer were believed to be brought in by commercial fishermen. Two of those claiming tagged fish failed the lie detector test, and three backed out, said Marty Gary, an ecologist for the fisheries service who runs the Diamond Jim contest.
Admitting that some were questioning the contest's "credibility" after there were no Diamond Jim winners the first six years, O'Connell and other DNR officials got the approval of several fishing organizations to use recreation fishing licensing fees to hand out at least $25,000 this year. (Had all three Diamond Jim fish been caught, the winners would have shared $30,000.)
The 11 fish caught represented the largest number of tagged fish caught in a single year in the contest.
"I'm disappointed for one individual that we didn't have a Diamond Jim winner," O'Connell said, "but one of the reasons we changed the contest rules was that we still handed out that $25,000 and a number of people leave here really happy."