Win­ning the big prize

Maryland Independent - - Sports - Jamie Drake

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.

jamiedrake­out­doors@out­look.com

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