Last summer, Anna Estremsky competed in the first-ever Youth Angler of the Year contest hosted by the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishing Association.
In the association's seasonal magazine, Tidelines, Anna was pictured with a 37-pound rockfish and the caption "Way to go, Anna!" Her parents, Gary and Sherry, left an open copy of the magazine on a coffee table in their Edgewater home.
Anna liked the picture, and she liked the fish, but she felt bad because the magazine also listed the contest's standings, and she was in last place.
"Do you think I can get into first place?" Anna asked her father.
"Well, we would have to fish a lot," Gary replied, "and I'm still not sure we can catch up."
Anna didn't care. She said she wanted to fish every day, and when her father again told her that they still might not win the contest, she smiled.
"That's OK, Dad," Anna said. "It's time fishing together."
On Thursday night, 9-year-old Anna and her father sat at a small folding table at the Alltackle retail showroom in Annapolis to learn about knot-tying and fish-handling. It was the first event in the MSSA's eight-part youth seminar series, which executive director Dave Smith says is the first season-long fishing program of its kind.
Captain Randy Dean and his son and first mate, Ryan, walked around the room helping children tie loop, clinch and fisherman's knots. At one table, a pair of brothers, Darin and Brian, worked on their knots between bites of pepperoni pizza. At another, 7-year-old Colin Payne, wearing a camouflage cast on his right arm, used his left arm to help his dad, Mike, tie a clinch knot.
"That's what it's about: getting the younger generations involved in fishing," Smith said. "Because we've seen a slight decrease in youth participation, we're trying to bring those kids up, get the kids involved, and then foster that relationship to make sure that they continue to fish."
If involvement is the goal, then Anna already is past the target market. She's loved fishing since she was 2 years old and fished almost every day last summer, mostly with her father, a patent examiner for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
On Thursday night, Anna wore a black hat with the letters "FG" written on it in pink, for Fisher Girl, an accurate description of the fourth-grade fishing phenom.
"In the summer, I fished every day," Anna said, smiling, "unless I was in Pennsylvania at Hersheypark or something."
"She took her birthday off because we went to Hersheypark," Gary explained.
They fished from and at pretty much everywhere you could think of: from the family's powerboat and tandem kayak, from the pier and the shore, from the waters off Poplar Island and a charter out of Ocean City.
The Youth Angler of the Year contest was scored on the species of fish caught each day rather than quantity, so Anna and her father would spend hours pulling up rockfish and white perch to catch the croaker or spot they needed that day.
"She caught hundreds [of fish]. Literally, just hundreds and hundreds," Gary said. "We'd probably catch 20-30 fish to get the entries for the day, and that was just typical day-in, day-out."
And with those hundreds of fish came hundreds of memories, like the time Anna hooked and reeled in a 34-inch rockfish all by herself. Or the time they were fishing in Ocean City and Gary messed with the boat's radio, turned back around and saw that Anna already had jigged up a flounder. Or the frequent trips to the pier, where Anna had a specific place for catching spot and a specific place for catching white perch. Or the bad banana story.
"Our neighbor went fishing with us and he brought a banana," Anna said.
"Everybody knows a banana is bad luck," Gary continued, "and he sets it right up there on the center console, proud as pie."
The boat was running fine until, sure enough, Gary and Anna heard a lurching sound. The boat stopped. Gary thought it had broken down.
"We had to literally chuck the banana into the water," Anna said, giggling, "and we saved ourselves from blowing up or something — that's probably what would've eventually happened."
Anna fished so much that it pretty much consumed her summer. She passed up a trip to her grandmother's house because she wanted to catch her two species for the day. She tried to persuade her cousin, Joey, to fish with her, but he did so only once. Anna said that after that, he was probably afraid of being out-fished by a girl.
"We have to trick Joey into doing it," she said. "I don't know, maybe someday I'll say, 'Hey, Joey, my hands are broken, can you hold this for me?'"
When the summer finally came to a close and Anna returned to The Key School in Annapolis, she had done the improbable. With a little persistence and a little luck, she had moved into first place and won the first Youth Angler of the Year award.
"I was like, 'What is happening? What is happening?'" she said, grinning.
This year's contest will begin April 21 and run concurrently with the striped bass catch-and-keep season, which ends Dec. 15. The MSSA also will hold one youth fishing seminar every month until then, including lessons on everything from fish biology to boating safety and a one-day trip aboard the Miss Chesapeake out of Chesapeake Beach. All events are free and open to the public.
This summer, Anna's goal is to catch a citation rockfish, which would be 40 inches long, and maybe a bigger flounder.
"I'm hoping our fishing's just fun this year," Gary said. "The fishing every day, as much as I like it, is a lot of fishing. I'm just hoping to do different species and have fun."
When asked whether this summer would be similar to her last, Anna's face lit up. She grinned, nodded her head and looked at her father. He smiled and looked back at her.
MSSA Youth Fishing Seminar Series
Next topic: Fish Biology & Their Ecosystem
When: May 22, 6 p.m.
Where: Alltackle, 2062 Somerville Road, Annapolis
More information: For a complete schedule, go to mssa.net/youthanglerclub or call the MSSA at 410-255-5535