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The magic number is 100. Whether the Monster Rockfish Tournament draws that many boats to its inaugural event, though, might depend on the five-day weather forecast.
Six days before the deadline for boats to register for Saturday's event at Greenwell State Park in Hollywood, MRT's founder Jeff Tomcsik, a lifelong fisherman who also runs BAMM Enterprises, the group that brought you the Southern Maryland Extreme Makeover contest, said almost 60 boats had signed up for the Chesapeake Bay fishing tournament, which will start at 5 a.m. Oct. 30.
On Tuesday, two days before the registration deadline, 71 boats had entered, but Tomcsik was hopeful that the good weather forecast (winds around 9 mph, sunny, the temperature around 65 degrees) would compel at least 29 more to enter.
Why 100? One hundred boats means the full amounts of cash prizes will be awarded to the groups that haul in the day's heaviest rockfish. That's $10,000 to the winning vessels from two regions (north and south), not to mention a $100,000 bonus if the winning catch happens to weigh more than Maryland's 15-year-old state record catch of 67.5 pounds.
The north region includes Anchorage Marina, River Rock Outfitters Store, Bay Bridge Marina and Liberty Marina, while the south encompasses Herrington Harbor South, Breezy Point Marina, Calvert Marina and Point Lookout Marina.
The striped bass, or rockfish, described as a challenge to catch and a delight to eat, is a predator fish with a long, striped body and forked tailfin. When it was declared Maryland's state fish in 1965, lawmakers prefaced the occasion with this: "Whereas, not the least among the good reasons for living in Maryland is the abundant and unexcelled delicacy of the Chesapeake Bay striped bass or rockfish."
The timing for a local rockfish tournament might be right. In James Drake's Oct. 22 "Reel Report," the Southern Maryland Newspapers columnist predicted that "in days, not weeks" the Chesapeake Bay would be full of big, ocean running stripers measuring 30 to 50 inches. "Expect the really big rockfish," he wrote, "to show up within the next week to 10 days."
MRT's entry fee is $400 per boat, and anyone can enter. Rules stipulate that fish to be weighed-in must be checked in no later than 3:30 p.m. at a weigh station dock and must be caught by hook and line in a manner deemed acceptable by the recreation fishing practices established by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
A week before the tournament, Calvert Marina and Bay Bridge Marina had the most boats signed up. As boats start to come in, Tomcsik said, each marina will host an informal event, the Wusthof Professional Fish Filleting Competition, which is an important step, as it happens, in preparing for the second half of this two-day affair: the inaugural Monster Rockfish Festival, which will feature a rockfish cook-off.
The Monster Rockfish Festival will be held at Greenwell State Park from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. on Halloween.
According to the Greenwell Foundation's executive director, Jolanda Campbell, the fact that the park is a popular spot for fishermen (some of whom travel from afar and arrive before the gate opens) is but one reason that the foundation was pleased to partner with BAMM Enterprises to launch the new event.
The foundation saw an opportunity to create a big local event on par with other long-existing attractions, she said, and to showcase the range of the park's offerings.
The festival will feature local crafters and artists and offer visitors the chance to take part in fishing and kayak demos. There will Halloween events: pumpkin painting, costume contests and hay rides. The festival also will host the awards ceremony for the rockfish tournament.
Beer and wine will be served, and rock band Alive N Kickin will perform. Radio station 98.3 will be on-site, and the manor house will be open for self-guided tours.
Area chefs will be among the contestants in the rockfish cook-off, and spectators should expect a taste of the winning dishes. Just don't forget where the main ingredient came from: There's a good chance, in fact, that the prize-winning fish might end up on your plate.
The Greenwell Foundation will host the inaugural Monster Rockfish Festival from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Oct. 31 at Greenwell State Park, 25450 Rosedale Manor Lane, Hollywood. The festival will be held in conjunction with the inaugural Monster Rockfish Tournament on Oct. 30. The festival is free, but parking is $3. Call 301-373-2320.