These fish tales include props

Trophy fish memorialized in different ways for different fishermen

Friday, May 29, 2009

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Staff photo by DARWIN WEIGEL
Steven Williams and his daughter, Rachel Dean, hold up mounts of their trophy rockfish at the family dock in Lusby. Williams caught his 39-inch-long, 24-inch-girth rockfish in 2001 and had a skin mount made. Dean purchased a fiberglass mount of her 42-inch-long, 24-inch-girth rockfish in 2006, which was a replica of a rockfish that was reeled in by a client while she captained her first trip as a licensed charter boat operator. Dean captains a charter out of St. Jerome Creek in St. Mary's County.

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Staff photo by REID SILVERMAN
Joe Tippett, who will turn 84 next month holds his skin-mounted 48-inch trophy rockfish at his Hollywood home he caught in the spring of 2007. Four years earlier, Tippett caught a 43-inch rockfish and had it mounted, thinking it would be the biggest he would ever catch.

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Staff photo by EMILY BARNES
Twins Holden, left, and Hunter Goldey of Newburg sit with the rockfish mounts their dad made for them for their 9th birthday.

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Twins Holden, left, and Hunter Goldey of Newburg

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Twins Holden, bottom, and Hunter Goldey of Newburg

Every fisherman longs to catch a trophy-size rockfish.

Many of the fortunate who have caught their trophy fish, which is considered to be more than 40 inches long, decide to have it mounted despite the expense. Some choose the old-fashioned way of using the actual skin of the fish, while other fishermen opt for a fiberglass replica.

Hollywood resident Joe Tippett, who has been fishing the Chesapeake Bay and Patuxent River for rockfish for more than 70 years, finally caught a 43-inch rockfish in 2003 and decided to have it skin-mounted.

"When I caught the 43-inch, it was the biggest one I'd caught at the time," he said. Then after he waited more than two years to get back his skin mount, Tippett caught a bigger rockfish in May of 2007 that measured 48 inches.

Big fish, big price tag

"I didn't expect to be getting another one," Tippett said. But his decision was simple: call the taxidermist and have the 48-inch trophy mounted, too. Tippett asked the taxidermist for a rush job on the second fish. Otherwise, he said, "I'll be dead before I get it back." Tippett paid $1,700; $20 an inch, plus an additional 50 percent for the rush, and he got the mount back that December.

Getting a fiberglass mount of the fish did not appeal to Tippett, who, along with the two skin-mounted rockfish, has a few buck heads mounted in his basement.

Tippett, who will be 84 next month, said he caught both fish off chartreuse umbrella rigs around Cove Point while he was fishing from his brother's boat in the spring of both years.

"The fall is hunting time, so I wouldn't worry about fishing 'cause I like to hunt," he said.

Tippett said that when he caught his 48-inch rockfish, "It took me awhile to get it in 'cause it made a complete break," meaning that after he reeled in the fish it spooled the line back off.

In the 1970s and earlier, rockfish were plentiful and he recalls going out by himself and having two fish on lines at the same time. Now there are not as many, but more of them being caught are longer than 40 inches, he said.

"Now, I really don't want to get a big one. It'll tear me up now," Tippett said.

Tippett also fishes off his own boat, and when asked the name of the boat he thought a few seconds and said the name was the "Antique Fisherman."

"That's what you are," his wife, Gloria, jokingly called back to him. Married nearly 65 years, they both used to spend time during the summers at Joe Tippett's grandparents' place on Clarke's Landing and enjoyed fishing and crabbing. One time years ago, just off their dock, Gloria hooked a fish so big she thought it was a snag, but when Joe took the line he learned the line wasn't hung up. It was a big bluefish, 31 inches, which he also has mounted in his basement.

Are rockfish getting bigger?

Other fishermen agree with Tippett that there are more big rockfish these days.

Pearl King, who has worked at Tyler's Tackle Shop in Chesapeake Beach for 30 years, said the rockfish "do seem to be getting bigger over the past years," but year to year they vary. A 51-pound, 48- to 49-inch rockfish mount of one caught in 2007 hangs on the wall at the shop.

At this spring's Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association tournament during the first weekend of May, a 47-pound rockfish won first prize, with the next two weighing in the 45-pound range. The tournament only records the weight of the fish, not the length.

Last fall, JJ's Tackle at Bunky's Charter Boats in Solomons recorded a 60-pound, 54-inch and a 57-pound, 53-inch rockfish. Last fall the Tackle Box in Lexington Park recorded a 53-incher and a 57-incher caught at Point Lookout. But this past trophy season, which ended on May 15, they saw just a few fish longer than 40 inches, with most in the 25- to 35-pound range, with no real big ones.

One of biggest recorded at JJ's this spring was on May 9 with a weight and length of 50 and a 27-inch girth, said Kevin Corrigan. The unusually fat fish was rounded like a football. Corrigan, who has worked at the shop for 20 years, said every year they see fish in the 50- to 55-inch range. He equates the talk of catching bigger fish to the improvements in fishing equipment that allow people to reel in bigger fish without the wear and breaking of lines. A new braided line, Power Pro, will not get caught on the last eye of the fishing pole as some do, he said.

Plus, "it's a tougher material," Corrigan said.

According to Maryland Department of Natural Resources, over the past six years the state's ocean-side rockfish record has increased from 52 pounds, 8 ounces in 2003; 52 pounds, 9 ounces in 2005; to 57 pounds, 2 ounces in 2006. But the Chesapeake Bay record, at 67 pounds, 8 ounces, stands since 1995, although a 65-pound rockfish was recorded in Annapolis last December.

Fish tales

For some, it's not the size that makes fishermen decide to mount their catch. It's the chance to capture a memory.

Both Rachel Dean and her father, Steven Williams, of Lusby have stories to tell.

Dean, an English teacher at Patuxent High School, said she had a fiberglass replica of a 42-inch rockfish made because it was the first rockfish caught while she was operating as the charter captain. "Nothing feels as good as the first fish … it's what we call ‘getting the skunk out of the boat,'" she said.

Dean, who said she has been "fishing since I was little," got her captain's license in 2003 and worked as a mate at first.

The fish she mounted was not the biggest caught that day, but it commemorated a first for her. Dean, who captains in the summer and on weekends during the school year, said, "I'd be in heaven" if spring break fell during the first week of rockfish season.

Dean said she couldn't have a skin mount made because it wasn't her fish, and she likes the way her fiberglass mount looks.

"They've come so far, it's realistic now," she said of the fiberglass mounts. Most charter captains recommend fiberglass mounts with the company she went with, she added.

Although her father banters with her about her fake fish, she answers right back, saying his looks old and not shiny like hers.

Williams caught the rockfish he had mounted in 2001. Like his daughter, the fish was not the largest one he has caught, but there's a story with it.

It was during the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association tournament and after a long reel in, when the fish was being netted, the net broke at the handle, Williams said. The fish flared his gills, opened his mouth and kept twisting his tail while in the net, he said.

The guy holding the net put his hand down the throat of the fish while his daughter Rachel grabbed the tail of the fish and they all heaved it into the boat together.

"He may not have been my biggest one, but the battle was most amusing," Williams said. "I looked at it as a team fish."

The fish placed third for the day, but was not in the money for the weekend tournament, he said.

Dean's husband, Simon Dean, who captains a charter boat out of Bunky's Charter Boats, doesn't have a mount of his own yet.

"He's waiting on a 50-[inch fish], that'll be it," she said.

Catching fish fever early

Two 9-year-old boys from Newburg have already caught and had their rockfish mounted. Twins Hunter and Holden Goldey, who go fishing with their father and uncle, got a surprise for their birthday last December when their father, Howard Goldey, presented them with fiberglass mounts of fish they caught.

Hunter caught a 42-inch rockfish in 2007 and Holden caught a 38-inch rockfish while fishing from their uncle's boat.

"I had to do it in secret," said Howard Goldey, owner and taxidermist of Southern Maryland Taxidermy.

The boys, third-graders at Dr. Thomas L. Higdon Elementary School in Newburg, both said they were surprised and excited when they got the mounts for their birthday.

When asked about the day he caught the fish, Holden said, "We had a wild time; had a whole bunch of fishing rods and three fish on at the same time ... and I had to drive the boat."

Hunter said his fish was so big that his dad had to help him reel it in "a little bit."

"It's the biggest I'd ever caught," he said.

Hunter wasn't sure if he would ever catch a bigger one, but Holden was convinced that he would.

Whether their father will mount another fish for the boys remains to be seen. But he says that fiberglass mounts are "getting really popular."

"You still get the die-hard people who want skin mounts," he said.

Goldey, who charges $20 an inch for either fiberglass or skin mounts, said the fish needs to be taken care of the right way if people want to have a skin mount, plus they miss out on eating the fish.

"You've got to be very careful because the scales come off easily," he said.

When scales are missing the difference is noticeable, he added.

Most of Goldey's mounts come from rockfish caught off charter boats, and at least half of the mounts he creates are made of fiberglass.