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Hooking up with promise of payoff

The Baltimore Sun

He didn't know about the state's fishing contest and wasn't planning on keeping any striped bass as he trolled off the mouth of the Choptank River.

So when Rob Johnson reeled in a 20-inch striped bass Saturday morning and saw a bright yellow sliver of plastic poking from its side, he thought he had hooked a fish with a lure in it.

Instead, Johnson, a resident of Harmony on the Eastern Shore, became the first angler to catch a tagged fish in the state's annual "Diamond Jim" contest, a striped bass that could be worth $10,000.

"Excited? I still am a little bit," said Johnson, 43, who works for his family's software development firm. "I'm not much of a gambling man, so if it happens, it happens."

The fish, verified Tuesday by the Department of Natural Resources, was one of 21 striped bass sporting bright yellow tags that make them eligible for the top cash prize this month.

"We still have a few days left in June. There could be one, two or 10 more caught," said DNR biologist Marty Gary, who is supervising the fishing promotion.

Johnson and three friends were trolling umbrella rigs dressed with Storm Shads on the western side of Sharps Island lighthouse. The four were distracted by a bird's nest of tangled line when the rod closest to Johnson bent.

"I just grabbed it, but it could have been any of us. The way I look at it, it was all four people who caught the fish," he said.

The tagged fish was released June 14, just to the north of the Sharps Island Light at the Stone Rock, according to DNR biologist Beth Versak.

Having caught their limit the previous day, Johnson and friends were just out for some catch-and-release action and had only a beverage cooler aboard. Out went the drinks, in went the fish, wrapped in an old shirt to keep it cool.

Envelopes marked with the tag number from each fish have been set aside at DNR headquarters. Inside is a certificate for $10,000 cash or a $500 gift certificate to Boater's World.

Johnson - and any other winners - will open their envelopes in early July, when the next batch of 21 tagged fish is released. If no one wins $10,000, the amount will double in July.

The process will be repeated in August, with "Diamond Jim" worth between $10,000 and $25,000, depending on the outcome in the previous two months.

The fishing contest is about more than just "Diamond Jim." Everyone who catches a citation-sized fish in one of 60 species anywhere in Maryland and registers is eligible to win one of the two top prizes: a Toyota pickup truck or a boat, outboard motor and trailer. The rules are at

The contest ends Labor Day.

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