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MSSA's Captain of the Year on the line at this weekend's Chesapeake Bay Fall Classic

Typical migratory Striped Bass caught during the spring season in the Chesapeake Bay. These fish were caught during the MSSA Spring Rockfish Tournament by Dan Dirks and Danny Collison.
Typical migratory Striped Bass caught during the spring season in the Chesapeake Bay. These fish were caught during the MSSA Spring Rockfish Tournament by Dan Dirks and Danny Collison. (Dale Dirks, Baltimore Sun)

Dale Dirks will return to his roots when he competes in the Chesapeake Bay Fall Classic fishing tournament this weekend.

"I grew up out there near Annapolis, near the Chesapeake Bay, and if you weren't fishing, you didn't have a whole lot to do," said Dirks, who started fishing at about 6 or 7 years old.

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Next Saturday and Sunday, Dirks, 56, of Edgewater, will join one of about 200 crews competing to catch the largest striped bass. It's the last of four events in this year's Maryland Saltwater Sportfishing Association tournament series and the largest fall tourney in the Chesapeake Bay, said Dave Smith, executive director of the MSSA.

Anglers will choose spots anywhere in the Maryland territory of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, "from the Virginia line all the way north," Smith said. Eight weigh stations throughout the bay will provide locations for captains to weigh their three largest fish.

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The leader of the team that has the most points gathered from all four competitions — which include a spring competition in the bay and two summer contests in the ocean — will be named Captain of the Year and awarded a cash prize, plus entry into all four of next year's tournaments in the series. The second-place finisher will win free entry into three of next year's tournaments; third will win entry into two events; and fourth will win one free entry for next year.

John Travers is the leading captain through three events.

"First place [going into this weekend] has a pretty good lead, but it's not something other anglers can't overcome," Smith said. "And we still have three other places that have pretty good value for winning it."

Dirks, who heads into the last leg of the competition in 12th place, said he likely will take his boat of five or six fellow anglers to a spot between Thomas Point Park and Chesapeake Beach.

One year, Dirks' crew chose an isolated spot during the first spring competition because he'd received a tip that "quality fish" would be there. He caught a 175-pound tuna and went on to win Captain of the Year.

"It was early in the tournament series with two left, but we caught the fish first thing Friday morning, the first day of the tournament, and we knew that virtually assured us we were going to win the tournament," Dirks said.

He said he has not heard where the big fish or schools might be in this year's Fall Classic.

Dirks has won Captain of the Year four times, but he said the title and prize aren't why he competes. Instead, he hopes to help conserve and increase resources for the Chesapeake Bay while doing something he enjoys.

"MSSA is an important organization that focuses on positive things for resources," Dirks said. "One of the ways to support the organization is by participating in all its tournaments, and the added bonus for participating is sometimes you win some money."

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