With the lure of making as much as $100,000 in prize money, nearly 4,000 anglers in some 650 boats are expected to descend on the Chesapeake Bay next weekend for what is billed as "the largest rockfish tournament in the world."

According to Dave Smith, executive director of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishing Association, there are "over 50 ways to win." First place in the main draw is worth a guaranteed $15,000.

The big money is made in what MSSA bills as a "tournament within a tournament." Depending on the number of skill levels entered, an angler can come away with a pretty hefty check for the May 4-6 competition. The record was set for the now-29-year-old tournament in 2008 by Lee Slagle of Annapolis. Slagle won close to $80,000.

The tournament, which will be held on the east and west side of the bay with 11 weigh stations in between, is the first of four the MSSA will hold this year. The entry fee for "The Championship on the Chesapeake" is $250.

The tournament will have several divisions, including one for youths and one for women.

Smith said the use of text messaging and other technology has helped reduce the number of fish taken in, as anglers release smaller ones back into the water.

With a minimum length of 36 inches considered for competition — 8 inches above the state regulation — Smith said most anglers release a majority of the fish they catch. During the past three years, only one fish per boat weighed in, Smith said.

"They're looking for that big one that's worthy of a prize," Smith said.

The largest fish caught in the tournament was 52 inches long, he said.

Newcomers to the event, which started as a bluefish tournament, may attend one of four remaining captains meetings held from Solomons Island to Middle River before the tournament.

More information can be found at mssa.net or by calling the MSSA's main office at 410-255-5535.

The captains meetings are scheduled for April 30 at Commodore Hall in Essex, May 1 at ALLTACKLE in Annapolis, May 2 at Solomons Pier Restaurant in Solomons Island and May 3 at Rod N' Reel in Chesapeake Beach. Door prizes will be available at ALLTACKLE. The meetings run from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

There will be a tournament party and awards ceremony after the end of the tournament. The $15 cost includes a $2,000 cash drawing as well as door prizes.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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