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Timing just right for Suchter in Chesapeake Bay Fall Classic

Josh Suchter's team won first place with a 46.6-pound catch.
Josh Suchter's team won first place with a 46.6-pound catch.(Photo courtesy of MSSA)

The night before last weekend's 22nd annual Chesapeake Bay Fall Classic, Josh Suchter was less concerned with catching the biggest rockfish than he was with just getting his boat into the water.

Fishtank had alternator problems, and the Prince Frederick resident's crew was working on a repair until 11 p.m. after having trouble finding a replacement part.

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"We knew we had a lot of work to do," Suchter said. "We had to track [a replacement alternator] down and found one eventually. We were out of options and figured we'd make one last phone call to [McCready Boatyard & Railway owner] David Abell to see if he had one laying around, and he did."

The timing was fortunate. Suchter, 29, and the other five anglers aboard Fishtank arrived at the water at 7:30 a.m. last Sunday and caught the winning fish, a 46.6-pound striped bass, by 7:50. The weigh stations did not open until 11 a.m., so the crew bided its time before heading to the Calvert Marina station.

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"We knew it was going to place, knew it was over 40 pounds, but we didn't know it would be the winner," Suchter said. "Everybody was pretty excited, and there was still a lot of time before the end of the tournament [at 4:30 p.m.], so it was a long wait."

For the past three years, Suchter has made his own bait, pouring the lead, painting it and tying hair on it. He said catching his winning 49-inch fish with his homemade bait made the victory even more special.

The competition, which drew about 1,200 anglers aboard 225 boats, was the last of a four-event Maryland Saltwater Sportfishing Association tournament series that began in early May.

Second-place winner Tom Byrne of Annapolis, 45, caught his 45.7-pounder about noon Saturday aboard the Right Nut. He and his crew of seven brought the fish to Gas Dock at Cove Point. Byrne had placed in fishing tournaments before, "but never in good money" — like the $21,509 he won in the Fall Classic.

Byrne, owner of 360 Degree Charters, said that as soon as his crew saw the 50-inch fish, they knew they were in the running to place.

"The whole crew was very excited," Byrne said. "We kept fishing and put all rods back in the water before taking pictures ... and tried to get another [fish] before celebrating."

Third-place winner Marcus Wilson, meanwhile, had no such expectations. About 9:30 a.m. last Sunday, he and his five crew members caught a 44.15-pound, 48-inch rockfish. They continued fishing until about 2 p.m., but it was their only catch of the day. And it was worth $11,430.

"The crew thought it was 40 pounds, but I didn't," said Wilson, 24, of Chesapeake Beach. "I was surprised it was as big as it was, but once we knew what it weighed, we knew we had a really good chance at placing."

Wilson twice had placed before in MSSA tournaments and once in the Rod 'N' Reel Pro-Am Tournament, held on the Chesapeake Bay. Those spring tournaments differed from last weekend's Fall Classic, he said, because anglers catch more fish in the spring. In the fall, "It's anybody's game, and you just need one bite," he said.

This triumph meant more for Wilson. In previous tournaments, he had used his father's boat or the tar boat he works on with his business, Hot Lick Sportfishing Charters. This time, he captained a boat he had bought over the summer.

"It meant a lot to me because it was my first tournament in my own boat," Wilson said. "I made decisions and put work into it."

Based on participation and total fish weight in all four of the MSSA contests, John Travers will be named Captain of the Year, which secures entry into all four of next year's series events and includes a cash prize. The second- and third-place finishers will not be decided until all tournament points are tallied, said Dave Smith, MSSA executive director.

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Although the weekend was chilly, the winds were relatively calm, which Smith said might have contributed to the improved turnout. About 85 more boats competed in this year's Fall Classic than last year's.

"Weather plays a role, but the tournament is turning up the last several years," Smith said. "I think it'll be even bigger next year."

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