Anglers seeking a unique experience on the Chesapeake Bay should register now for the second annual Rod & Reef Slam on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
The fishing tournament taking place Saturday, Sept. 22, on six oyster restoration sites near the mouth of the Choptank River, is meant to highlight the diversity of fish that thrive near oyster reefs. So rather than be rewarded for catching a specific large fish, anglers in this catch-and-release fishing tournament are tasked with trying to catch as many different species of fish to win prizes such as Engle coolers, Costa Sunglasses gift cards, Lyon Distilling Rum, and fishing tackle. If anglers tie on the number of species caught, the size of their fish will determine the winners.
Last year, anglers caught dozens of fish from 10 different species such as rockfish, white perch, weakfish and spotted seatrout.
“Historically the live bottom provided by three-dimensional oyster reefs produced an amazingly diverse fishing community,” said John Page Williams, Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s senior naturalist and a seasoned angler. “Our aim here is to bring that rich diversity back to our recreational and commercial fisheries. We are starting to see that return in the reef ball field in the Choptank River and other oyster restoration areas.”
The tournament takes place from 6:30 a.m. until fishing lines will be required to be out of the water at 2:30 p.m. An after party and awards show will take place from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Lowes Wharf Marina Inn in Sherwood. There are three divisions—powerboat, kayak, and youth. The entry fee is $50 for the powerboat and kayak division and youth can participate for free if they have a Coastal Conservation Association youth membership, which is $10 per year. The registration price covers the entry fee, after party food, giveaways, entertainment, and access to a cash bar. Tickets for just the afterparty are $10 and include food and entertainment.
The tournament is being co-sponsored by Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office, Coastal Conservation Association Maryland and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.The title sponsor is Curtis Stokes & Associates, Inc.
Participating anglers in this tournament will fish on their choice of six oyster restoration reef areas—Tilghman Island Reef just outside of Knapps Narrows, Clint Waters Reef at Cooks Point, reef balls at the Bill Burton Fishing Pier near Cambridge, and three different oyster sanctuaries in Harris Creek, the Tred Avon River and the Little Choptank River. Before releasing the fish they catch, anglers will use the iAngler app to record the size and location of their catch.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation in partnership with groups such as Coastal Conservation Association Maryland and NOAA have worked to preserve and grow oyster reefs in the Bay to improve water quality. Oysters are a keystone species in the Chesapeake. They filter water and the crevices between the groupings of bivalves provide habitat for other critters such as small fish, crabs, and grass shrimp.
Small fish, such as blennies, gobies and skillet-fish that feed on the reef are natural bait for much bigger fish such as rockfish and perch as well as blue crabs.
The locations chosen for the fishing tournament are all places where conservation groups have planted hundreds of thousands of oysters over the past decade. For example, this summer the Chesapeake Bay Foundation planted more than 120 reef ballsin the Choptank River, while more than 1,500 reef balls have been planted at Cook’s Point.
The Harris Creek oyster sanctuary is a productive example of restoration efforts. Since 2011, 350 acres of water bottom have been planted with oysters. A NOAA study released last year found that the vast majority of planted oysters were forming into stable, healthy reefs.
The Chesapeake Oyster Alliance, a group of more than 40 local and regional conservation groups, aquaculture businesses, and academic partners, is working to expand oyster populations in the Chesapeake by adding 10 billion new oysters in Virginia and Maryland waters by 2025.
However, more needs to be done to draw attention to the important water quality and recreational benefits oysters provide to the Chesapeake Bay. The Rod & Reef Slam is meant to remind people about the ecosystems oyster reefs create and the recreational fishing opportunities they can provide.