Anglers hope 13th annual tourney means luck

Surf-fishermen from throughout the region will have a new focus this weekend, beyond the state’s proposed saltwater fishing license. They’ll be eyeing a potential $25,000 payoff for landing a Delaware state-record bluefish in the 13th Annual Spring Surf-Fishing Tournament sponsored by the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce.

No participant in the annual spring tourney has yet taken home the big prize, but Chamber Executive Director Karen McGrath held out hope for lucky No. 13 this week, noting a Maryland state record-breaking rockfish (striped bass) caught near Assateague Island just this past weekend, shattering the year-old 52.9-pound record.

The shattering of records just might be in the air — or at least the water — or so Saturday’s tournament participants hope. They’ll have to beat Bill Thoroughgood’s longstanding record from 1980 to take home the big prize. The Rehoboth Beach angler brought in a 21-pound, 15-ounce, blue in October of that year. (The Delaware record striper was a 51-pound, 8-ounce, fish caught in 1978 by a Pennsylvania woman, at Indian River Inlet.)

But even if the Delaware records remain intact this weekend, there will be plenty of chances for anglers to reel in some big fish – and big prizes — in the tournament.

There’s a $1,000 bounty on the largest fish, $750 to the angler gathering the most points for their catch, and cash prizes of $500, $350 and $150 for second through fourth places in points. Other prizes are available for other top points-getters.

Additionally, there’s a $250 prize for the top points-getter in the women’s division, and prizes including surf rods and reels, spinning rods and reels, and tackle boxes for the top three finishers in each of two kids’ categories, for those ages 10 to 14, and 9 or younger. (The kids’ prizes are donated by a memorial fund in memorial of Edward J. McHale Jr.)

In 2005, Ted Chick’s $1,575 Calcutta-winning 29-inch bluefish wasn’t nearly big enough to break the state records. But in addition to catching the largest bluefish, Chick also received $1,000 for catching the largest fish in the tourney.

Clark Crockett racked up 116 points and took home $750 in 2005, while Charles Davis followed close behind with 113 points and earned $500. Also taking home cash prizes were David Smith, earning 81 points and $350, and Emerson Wells, who took home $150 for his 74-point total.

The biggest little winner of the day was 9-year-old Kendra Williams. She was the only female angler who caught a fish, so she took home the ladies’ $250 prize for her 17-inch bluefish. She was also the only child younger than 14 who caught a fish, so she received a surf rod and reel as well.

That may serve as incentive for the ladies and kids to turn out for the tournament in 2006, to give the men some competition and compete with each other for the big prizes in the other categories. A dearth of kids or ladies could mean an easy day for those who do put lines in the water.

Beyond luck, the key in taking home a prize in this year’s tournament may be in where anglers choose to fish.

Last year, heavy breakers from a late-season nor’easter made for a delayed start (pushed back to 11 a.m. from 7 a.m.) and rough going on the southern end of the tourney’s fishing area in Fenwick Island. At the northern end of the fishing zone, however, anglers had them hopping on the line at the Indian River Inlet once the judges gave the signal.

But with cold water flowing in on the storm tide, the fish seemed to be chewing on the bait rather than taking a bite. That netted only 40 fish all day — a situation that may well be improved this year with anticipated sunny skies and air temperatures in the low 70s on Saturday. (The bad weather may have passed this year’s tourney by, McGrath noted Monday, when U.S. Sen. Tom Carper and Rep. Mike Castle toured local beaches amid blustery winds, heavy clouds and chilly temperatures.)

The tournament is again set to start at 7 a.m. this year. Anglers are required to register and check in at the Chamber building just north of Fenwick Island, either on Friday, May 12, between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m., or on Saturday, tournament day, between 6 and 7 a.m. They’ll receive their score sheets and rules — including fishing location maps — at that time, and they can also sign up for the bluefish Calcutta.

Individual registration costs $25, with families able to register for the bargain price of $35 — another incentive to bring the kids and ladies out to try for a prize.

From there, it’s out to their chosen fishing spots — adherence to Delaware surf-fishing tag requirements is mandated for all vehicles at location where drive-on fishing is permitted.

All anglers must bait and cast their own rods and remove their own fish, and there’s a limit of two rods per person, with a maximum of two hooks each.

Size limits for the tournament are the same as Delaware’s standard requirements, but anglers will also be able to cash in on the tournament’s release incentive — one point per good release, as determined by the judge. (Anglers are asked to bring a bucket to keep the fish alive until judged and released.)

Judges will patrol the fishing areas throughout the day, to measure and record all catches. Where points determine the winners, the points are determined by the length of the fish from tip of snout to tip of tail. After they’re measured, a section of tail will be cut off, and that fish will no longer be eligible. In the case of a tie, the angler who catches the most fish will win.

Those points will be tallied up at the Chamber, with score sheets due there no later than 4:30 p.m. From there, it’s on to the prize award ceremony, set for 5:30 p.m., also at the Chamber. Winners must be present at the ceremony to receive their prizes. And the Calcutta winner and payout will also be determined at that time.