- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Let’s make several clarifications about the over-hyped announcement of the Second Annual Maryland $1,000,000 Fishing Challenge that had some of our city’s television talking heads all atwitter. For starters, this isn’t a fishing contest or a tournament in which skilled and not-so-skilled anglers go after various fish species and are properly rewarded for catching the biggest or the most allowed in a particular category. No, the $1 million deal that Maryland is pushing is a tourism promotion and a way to boost the charter fishing captains’ chances of making a few bucks.

In itself, there’s nothing wrong with tourism and there certainly is nothing wrong with our charter fishing skippers on the Chesapeake Bay. But don’t let anybody tell you that accidentally hooking a specially tagged fish amounts to participating in a fishing tournament. In fact, it is possible that no one will win the $1 million.

On Friday, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and former Baltimore Orioles star Boog Powell kicked off the $1 million Fishing Challenge, which is under way now through Labor Day. This time around, it will include the state’s non-tidal lakes and streams, in addition to the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries.

This year, just as was done back in the 1950s, the Fishing Challenge features the return of Diamond Jim. Each week throughout the 13-week promotion, a rockfish nicknamed Diamond Jim, is marked with a special yellow tag and will be released. Whoever catches that week’s Diamond Jim wins an instant $25,000.

The Fishing Challenge is open to everyone who is legally licensed to fish in Maryland, or fish in one of the state’s license-free fishing areas or license-free days (such as Saturday or July 4). There is no registration required, no fee to participate and no age restrictions.

Other fish will be released throughout the entire Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay, its tidal tributaries and the inland waters of the state. Tagged fish will be released in every county, but don’t expect to find an Atlantic croaker in Garrett County. The tagged and released fish will reflect what’s available in those waters. Included are striped bass, croakers, white perch, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, crappies, all species of sunfish, rainbow trout, brown trout and channel catfish.

If you catch a fish with a tag that says, “MD $1,000,000 Fishing Challenge, Expires 09/04/06, Keep Tag, phone 410/693-7706,” get busy. You might make some money. If you hook “Diamond Jim,” it will have a neon green tag that mentions the Fishing Challenge, but also the words, “Ineligible if tag removed,” so don’t remove it. Call the phone number, provide your name, a phone where you can be reached, the tag number and a location where you will be for the next 24 hours. You’ll be called back with more instructions.

The sponsors of this promotion include the Department of Natural Resources, the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED), Boater’s World Marine Centers, Toyota of Maryland, and Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World. They’ve combined to give away five grand prizes which include a chance at $1 million cash, two fishing boats with motors and trailers and two pickup trucks. In addition, some of those catching tagged fish will be instant winners of prize packages.

Will Florida bears be off limits? — The U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance reports that anti-hunting groups are attempting to block any future bear hunting seasons in Florida by petitioning the state to revise its classifications for threatened species.

On May 31, 18 anti-hunting organizations filed a legal petition demanding that the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) amend the categories by which it lists imperiled species. The idea is to make the down-listing of the black bear and other species more difficult at the state level, thus keeping the black bears off the list of legally huntable animals.

The Sportsmen’s Alliance says of the groups that are filing the Florida petition, three have lawsuits pending against the federal Fish & Wildlife Service to halt or impede bear hunting. They are the Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Sierra Club, which contends that Florida’s bears are a separate sub-species of the more common North American black bear and because of that need protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]washingtontimes.com.

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