What is now billed as the "world's largest rockfish tournament" began 30 years ago with a different catch in mind — bluefish — and pretty much remained that way until a decade ago.
That's when the once-plentiful bluefish population became scarce around the Chesapeake Bay and rockfish, which began to repopulate during a three-year moratorium in the early 1990s, became the event's focal point.
And so was born "The Championship on the Chesapeake."
Part of a branding move by the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishing Association, the event was expected to attract 500 boats and 3,500 anglers this weekend. The event started Friday and ends today, with an estimated $200,000 in total prize money.
MSSA executive director Dave Smith said Thursday that a new Fish Tagger app and the use of social media will help anglers keep track of how their biggest catch compares with others. Anglers can report their catch using iPhones and Android devices.
Smith said the use of "text messaging and other technologies has dramatically reduced the number of fish brought to the scales. If we can let our captains and crews know what kind of fish they need to win, there will be more fish released."
Any fish 36 inches or longer will be eligible for consideration at the 11 weigh stations. A trophy rockfish could be worth tens of thousands of dollars. Last year's winner took home nearly $70,000 in prize money. There also will be youth and women's competitions.
Another new wrinkle to this year's tournament is a $1,000 Fish Bomb prize, sponsored by the company of the same name and given to the angler who weighs in the largest fish using the Fish Bomb, a newly developed fish-luring scent that can be released intermittently or continuously at various depths.
According to Smith, the Fish Bomb "has proven to be a game changer in fishing for rockfish."
For information about the tournament, go to mssa.net/thechampionship.