Wild Chesapeake: Weather no Match for Rockfish Tournament

Tournament winner John Oechsle, left, with Chesapeake Bay Magazine editor-in-chief Joe Evans. Photo: John Bildahl

Predicted wind gusts to 30 knots and tornado warnings altered, but couldn’t stop, the 18th annual Boatyard Bar & Grill Catch & Release Rockfish Tournament in Annapolis.

Boatyard owner and tournament chief Dick Franyo took the prudent step to extend fishing into Sunday, which allowed anglers, especially those fishing on smaller vessels, to avoid the potentially dangerous conditions and not miss out on the fun. 

Although Saturday was windy, it wasn’t as bad in the morning as predicted, so a handful of hardy skippers did wet lines. However, most of the 75 registered teams—more than 300 anglers in total—stayed tied to the dock, which helps explain why only five rockfish were logged into the iAnglertournament scoring app on Opening Day. 

Sunday was much calmer, so the bulk of the tournament fleet welcomed the more moderate seas. Catching also improved as 22 rockfish were logged in, including the 47-inch tournament winner caught by John Oechsle, who along with his crew took home a giant Engle cooler filled with swag, courtesy of the Coastal Conservation Association of Maryland (CCA MD).

Janine Samuel, fishing with Team Pasadena Yacht Yard, took second place overall and the top female angler prize for her 43.5-inch striper. Pete McDaniel, fishing on Mike Finkel’s boat, rounded out the top three with his 42.25-inch rockfish.

The tournament’s catch-photo-revive and release format is designed to conserve large rockfish, and that’s especially timely this year since striper stocks are in decline. No fish are brought to the scales; instead anglers quickly photograph their stripers against a unique measuring stick and upload the picture to the cloud-based program that constantly updates the leaderboard so anglers can check in real time where their rockfish ranks.

 Joe Evans, the tournament’s longtime lead judge as well as Chesapeake Bay Magazine’s editor-in-chief, notes that rockfish are judged “by their looks,” releasing them to swim another day instead of killing them. The popularity of the long-running upper Chesapeake event proves that the format works.

Chesapeake Bay Magazine is proud to be the major media sponsor. We handle the judging portion along with CCA MD and Chesapeake Bay Foundation representatives because it’s a solid charitable event and a great way to welcome the Chesapeake Bay spring fishing and boating season,” he adds.

Proceeds of the tournament benefit the Annapolis Police Youth Fishing Program, CCA MD, and Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

-Capt. Chris Dollar