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Volume 13, Issue 19 ~ May12 - 18 2005
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Bill Burton
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Burton on the Bay
by Bill Burton
A Million-Dollar Boost to America’s Greatest Sport

It’s amazing what people will do, eat or perform for a million dollars these days. Just watch any of the reality television shows.
—DNR Secretary Ron Franks

Methinks there’s no need to remind readers I didn’t have a winning superfecta ticket at the Kentucky Derby. Had I, this column — if there was one — would have a Tahiti dateline seeing that picking the four top horses in order of finish was worth $1.7 million. Yes, Ron Franks hit the nail on the head; what won’t we do for a million bucks?

So seeing I missed out on the Derby, what’s next with my millionaire daydreams? Without spending even a deuce on the ponies, I’m about to sharpen some hooks and try to catch a tagged fish or two in DNR’s just-announced $1,000,000 Fishing Challenge. If by chance I beat the odds, Tahiti will still be there.

Ron Franks’ crew is putting the finishing touches on the big contest planned to put Maryland’s angling opportunities on the map of fishermen near and far, a promotion that will start June 3 and continue through July 18. It’s not as simple as were previous department fish-for-cash programs, nor as was the Diamond Jim affair back in the mid-1950s. But when something is free, who can gripe?

Lead sponsors will be Boater’s World, with 110 locations across the country, and the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. If all goes as planned, more than a few tagged fish will be worth prizes donated by businesses that sponsor individual fish. Currently, the department is lining up the individual sponsors and will guarantee the big payoff if it comes about.

In all, the number of tagged fish could come close to 2,000, I’m told, and everyone who catches one of them will have hooked a T-shirt and a $25 gift certificate to Boaters World — as well as a chance to become a millionaire (before taxes).

Four popular sportsfishes of the Chesapeake and its tidal tributaries figure into all of this — rockfish, hardheads, white perch and largemouth bass — and it matters not which species one catches. Chances are equal whether the tagged fish is a striper of awesome size caught trolling on a charterboat or an eight-inch perch hooked on a bloodworm at a backyard pier.

If it has the official tag, you could be on the path to kissing the job good-bye, then going fishing whenever and wherever you want. But — there are always buts — this contest is not like the heralded Diamond Jim or DNR’s previous promotions in which each fish carried a coded tag that listed its worth: $10,000 for Diamond Jim for three summers in the mid ’50s (and one was caught), and thousands of bucks in the DNR promotions more than 20 years ago.

It’s Not Easy to Win a Million
Now, to become a millionaire one must have fishermen’s luck to catch a tagged fish, then an awful lot of plain old luck. You see, the name of everyone catching a tagged fish goes into the pot, then there’s a drawing. Four names will be selected at random, and each will be eligible for the bonanza.

At a ceremony with Gov. Bob Ehrlich in attendance on July 23, each of the quartet will be given a batch of match five entries listing $10,000, $50,000 and $1,000,000. The first five match determines the payout. At that point, the odds are one in 500 to join the Millionaire’s Club.

But (and this one is a good but), all four finalists have an equal chance of joining the club. If, for example, the first angler beats the odds and wins a million, the second, third and fourth could do likewise seeing they, too, have the same numbers in their batch. So, though the odds are greater even than that winning Kentucky Derby superfecta, there could be four instant millionaire Izaak Waltons.

At the very worst, there will be four fishermen with at the very least a $1,200 gift certificate for Boater’s World.

A Win-Win Proposition
It matters not where you fish. DNR assures us tagged fish will be released in the Bay and its tributaries from the head of the Bay to the Maryland line. Already, tagging crews are planning their mission. Meanwhile, the department is seeking sponsors for as many tagged fish as possible to give those who catch them instant rewards.

This whole promotion is a win-win proposition; no entry fees, no age or area restrictions, just catch a fish with an official tag. Fishermen have a chance to win big money, and in these days when the Bay, some of its fish and even fishing is getting a not-so-good rap due to environmental woes, DNR has come up with a promotion to boost America’s greatest sport.

From charter skippers and guides to fishing centers and innkeepers catering to anglers, cash registers should ring. Our Chesapeake’s image will be embellished for at least six weeks, and surely many who come to wet hooks from near and far will so enjoy their outing (even if they don’t catch a tagged fish) that they will return to fish another day. Or more.

Who needs Jeopardy, The Apprentice, Wheel of Fortune or Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (me, for one) when we can accomplish the same by going fishing? A tip of the rod to DNR, Boater’s World and DBED. And let’s not forget the sponsors of fish that offer instant winners.

Luck Like Mine
In all of this talk about becoming a millionaire via a lucky catch combined with the luck of the draw, I can’t help but recall a drawing for a millionaire’s weekend on the Bay over which I presided at the conclusion of a Chesapeake Bay Boat Show back when it was still playing at Baltimore’s Fifth Regiment Armory in the late ’70s.

Quite a crowd had gathered at the Harrison’s Chesapeake House booth to witness the plucking of the winning entry from a barrel by my then young daughter Heather. The winner would host, courtesy of Harrison’s, a party of six at the Tilghman Island Fishing Center: food, lodging, fishing and fish cleaning courtesy of the house.

All who attended the show and filled out an entry form were eligible for any of a dozen or so door prizes, but this one was the biggie. Heather reached into the barrel with more than 10,000 names within and handed me the supposed winning entry. I looked at it, folded it up and told her to draw another, which she did. Then I announced a winner.

As expected, more than a few of the onlookers voiced concerns that the drawing had been rigged; why had there been a second pick? I reached into my pocket, pulled out the folded entry and passed it to the most vocal of the complainants.

It read Bill Burton.

Why wasn’t that ticket drawn earlier when someone else was emceeing the lottery and someone other than Heather was reaching into the barrel for any of the other prizes? What a long shot; thousands of entries, with only one ineligible for the millionaire’s fishing trip. With luck like that, I guess I’d better not plan on Tahiti after all. Enough said.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.