When Robert Harris of Prince Frederick and his son, Robert Harris III, set sail from Solomons Island in the 21st annual Maryland Saltwater Sportfishing Association Chesapeake Bay Fall Classic striped bass tournament last weekend, they had to not only compete against an estimated 600 anglers, but the weather, too.
Temperatures were in the 40s Saturday, before falling to the mid-20s Sunday. Wind gusts also ranged from 15 to 50 knots over the weekend.
"It was rough in the morning [Saturday], seeing a lot of bait all day," Harris said. "When the wind blows like that, you can't get your speed right and the bait don't [sway] normal. Those waves keep making the bait go up and down, and the bait are supposed to be traveling at a steady pace."
But the Harrises overcame those challenges, as the elder Harris won the classic by catching a 47.15-pound striped bass, and Harris III finished second in the youth challenge with a 10.05-pounder.
"It was just truly awesome," the elder Harris said of the experience.
After a rough morning on Saturday, Harris, 42, and fellow fisherman Donnie Scrivener, 39, of Huntingtown began to head south on their boat, the Kelly D Sport Fishing.
Between 2 p.m. and 2:30 p.m., using bait from Tyler's Tackle Shop and Crab House in Chesapeake Beach, the duo caught a bass roughly 29 1/2 inches long before catching another one similar in size.
"Until then, all morning, we hadn't caught a fish," Harris said. "Then we said, 'Good. Maybe they're ready to bite.' The weather had calmed down; the weather was good."
Harris and Scrivener followed their instincts and put more bait in the water.
"That's when Bubba bit," Harris said.
The bass was so powerful that it straightened out one of the hooks and bent the trailer hook backward. But Harris and Scrivener managed to reel in the 47.15-pound striped bass that ultimately won them the fall classic, and a $29,275 check.
"When a big fish comes, the rod will bounce up and down," Harris said. "As soon as that happened, when that rod hit, Donnie looked and me and I looked at him."
Last Sunday, Harris took his son out to compete in the youth division. Harris III turned 14 on Nov. 22 and had a paintball party the next day when his father caught the big one.
Harris III had spent the previous summer working on a charter boat, where he learned valuable skills that helped him win the classic.
"It was good for him because he always thinks he can rig lines and make lines better than me. I try to teach him the things that I think big fish like, but he always comes up with a different idea," Harris said. "I was happy seeing him make a second-place finish because he made his own rig and he barred it."
It would be the only fish the two caught all day.