Winning the big prize
For many folks, just finding some time to get out on the water and do a little fishing feels like winning a prize. But friends Austin Davis, Ryan Russell, Jack Weber, John Weber and Kyle Wood really hit the jackpot earlier this month when they won the amateur division of the 33rd annual Championship on the Chesapeake and took home a check for $75,193 for their big win.
The Championship on the Chesapeake is an annual event held by the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishing Association. It lures in anglers from all over Maryland’s Eastern and Western shores to compete for a chance at cash and prizes totaling more than $200,000. Billed as the largest rockfish tournament in the world, there are professional, amateur, kayak, youth and ladies divisions. This year about 3,000 anglers in 445 boats participated in the three-day event that took place April 29 to May 1.
This year’s champion in the amateur division was John Weber, aboard the Loose Knot out of Leonardtown. He caught the winning striped bass in the Potomac River on the first day of the tournament measuring 50.5 inches and weighing 47.2 pounds. I asked them where and on what the winning fish was caught, but they are keeping those secrets safeguarded and I don’t blame them one bit.
Weber and the other crew members placed first in the main tournament and won multiple tournaments within tournaments, which brought their prize money up to the $75,193 payout. The crew of Loose Knot has entered the tournament for the past six years, but 2016 was their lucky year in this super bowl of rockfish tournaments.
Report card comes out
The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science released its annual Chesapeake Bay report card for 2015 last week. The good news is the score for the overall health of the bay has gone up since last year, but the total score of 53 percent was still below the goal for a healthy bay.
According to this report, a percentage of 53 percent is correlated to a “C” letter grade. I’ve spent quite a few years in school and am 100 percent sure that if I brought home a grade of 53 percent on a test, my parents wouldn’t have been too happy.
Looking at the breakdown of scores, the Potomac River was given a rating of “moderately poor” and the Patuxent River earned “poor” ecosystem health. Mid-bay, saw a little better rating of “moderate,” but we are warned “this region is very close to showing a slightly declining trend.”
On a positive note, bay grasses are coming back in some areas. Earlier this year, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources reported that underwater grass abundance increased 29 percent between 2014 and 2015. Maryland is currently at nearly 94 percent of its 2017 restoration goal of 57,000 acres. Even if some areas such as the Back, West and Nanticoke have no grasses, in other parts of the bay some grasses are better than none.
Closer to home, the Patuxent River had the lowest aquatic grass score in the region, which is not really a surprise since virtually all of the grasses that were visible 50 years ago have all but disappeared. Grasses in the Potomac River are slightly ahead at 41.6 compared to the average of 39. The Patuxent River brings up the rear with a score of 7.39. The crabs we love to eat and the bass we love to fish for depend on grasses for protection and food. The bay cannot exist without healthy grasses.
Water clarity has been poor in the bay for decades. Sediment suspended in the water blocks the sunlight needed for bay grasses to grow. And if grasses don’t grow, they can’t filter out the nutrients and sediment that are making it difficult for them to grow. That sounds to me like a vicious cycle to break, making restoration a difficult undertaking.