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White Marlin Open still fish- and angler-friendly

A friend to fish, a friend of fishermen.

That may be the best way to describe Jim Motsko, the founder of the White Marlin Open.

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Motsko is proud that the largest billfish tournament in the world releases 98 percent of all fish caught during the five-day event.

And he's equally proud of saying that the rules governing the White Marlin Open treat everyone the same, from the little guys with small boats to the rich guys with the mega-yachts.

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The Ocean City businessman must be doing something right. In five of the past seven years, the White Marlin Open set the world record for the most money paid for a white marlin catch (in 2002, it was $870,000). Last year, 402 boats registered, and the total payout was $2.1 million. The state record for blue marlin -- 942 pounds -- was set at the open in 1989.

Motsko hopes all those marks fall at the 30th annual White Marlin Open, which begins tomorrow and runs through Friday. One thing is certain: He's found a way to make the event friendlier for both the fish and fisherman.

On the conservation side, Motsko has added a category called the "Release Classic," in which International Game Fish Association-certified observers will document catches that are reeled in, then set free.

"Catching the heaviest fish is luck. Catching the most is not luck. That's really the bragging rights. That's the one many people would like to win," he says.

The number of entries in the category will be limited to the number of observers, which is expected to be 25 to 35 people.

The tournament also is awarding 20 bonus points to anglers who use circle hooks rather than the more lethal J-hooks to bring their fish in.

To assist weekend fishermen with limited resources, Motsko is reducing the playing field from 125 nautical miles from the Ocean City Inlet sea buoy to 100 miles. That still leaves plenty of fishing room in the fish-rich underwater canyons from 53 miles to 72 miles off the coast.

"In previous years, only the fast boats could get to where the fish were, and that kept the little guy away," he says. "This should even things out."

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The base entry fee of $850 per boat entitles the anglers to compete for a guaranteed $50,000 in prize money. The open does not limit the number of anglers on the boat. That remains a matter between the captain and the Coast Guard.

Anglers increase the potential for higher winnings by entering "Calcuttas," additional skill levels, beyond the base fee. Prize money will be awarded in the white marlin, blue marlin, tuna, wahoo and dolphin categories.

Anglers will fish from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on three of the five days. Weigh-ins are at Harbour Island Marina, 14th Street and Assawoman Bay, from 4 p.m. to 9:15 p.m. The Web site is www.whitemarlinopen.com.

Vox populi

Usually when regulatory agencies meet to decide what mere mortals will be allowed to do and when they will be allowed to do it, the proceedings are similar to when the tablets were handed down to Moses.

But during its meeting in Baltimore on Tuesday, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council will be coming down off the mountaintop to ask anglers what they want.

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William Hogarth, assistant administrator with NOAA Fisheries, will be holding "constituent sessions" from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., and 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., to learn about local concerns and potential remedies to problems.

The sessions will be held at the Wyndham Baltimore Inner Harbor, 101 W. Fayette St.

Pinpoint accuracy

Those hand-held global positioning system (GPS) units really look cool and they do lots of nifty things.

Especially if you know how they work.

REI Timonium is having a "GPS 101 Clinic" Thursday evening to teach you what all the buttons and wires do. Plus, the staff will tell you how to get your home computer to talk to your GPS unit.

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The clinic runs from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. It costs $20 for REI members, $30 for non-members, and it's free for anyone with a store sales receipt for a GPS unit.

REI is at 63 West Aylesbury Road, just off exit 16 of I-83. Or, for the GPS-literate among you, that's 39 degrees, 26 minutes, 18 seconds north latitude and 76 degrees, 37 minutes, 38 seconds west longitude.

For analog animals like me, there's also a good map on the REI Web site, www.rei.com.


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