The Capture of Diamond Jim
Diamond Jim has been caught.
True to the legend tagged to him by Maryland Department of Natural Resources, he brought riches to his captor.
Reeling in that 19-inch rockfish made Blair Wheeler of Herndon, Virginia, richer by $25,000, part of which she expects to use to repay college loans. Wheeler also sports a pair of diamond earrings, contributed to the Diamond Jim package by Zachary Jewelers of Annapolis. And she has certificates for $6,000 worth of tackle to collect.
That’s quite a haul for a first-time fisherwoman on the Chesapeake, who on first sight thought Diamond Jim’s green tag must mean he had “something wrong with him.”
Captain Stu Burgoon Jr. of Hook Mash, out of Calypso Bay at Tracy’s Landing, set her straight.
“That’s a Diamond Jim,” he said of the fish bearing tag number 5817.
Not a Diamond Jim but the Diamond Jim this fish turned out to be.
There are tens of thousands of rockfish in Chesapeake Bay. Out of those untold thousands, six hundred are caught and tagged by DNR monthly throughout summer. These Diamond Jims are then released for recatch by very lucky anglers.
Each month, one and only one of those fish is the real Diamond Jim. Only an algorithm hidden away in DNR’s files knows which tag is magic.
The value of Diamond Jim goes up each month. June’s Diamond Jim is worth $10,000; if he’s uncaught, July’s is worth $20,000; if he’s uncaught, August’s is worth $25,000.
Through nine years of tagging and fishing, no Diamond Jim succumbed. Plenty of prize money was paid out in Maryland’s annual promotion of our state’s good fishing — imposters bring $500 per fish to their catcher — but no big money.
So catching Diamond Jim is like finding a needle in a haystack, only more rewarding.
Wheeler, whose August fishing trip found that needle, concurs.
“I’m in kind of a shock,” she said on learning of her improbable luck last week at DNR’s 2013 Maryland Fishing Challenge Finale. “Who thinks they’re going to win $25,000?”
This year, nearly 60 fishers hoped it would be they. More tagged Diamond Jim possibles were caught this year than ever before, with August yielding the most, over 30 recaptures.
The previous highest total for recaptures was 12.
“It was a gangbuster year,” said DNR’s Joe Evans. “And the rockfish were concentrated between Sharps Island and Buoy 86, near Kentmore, and in particular at the mouth of Eastern Bay and the west side of Poplar Island. The fish were in one area and the fishermen had found them. By August, everybody knew where to go.”
Poplar Island is where Captain Stu took the birthday charter Wheeler had booked with her husband and brother. And where Diamond Jim was hooked, to be reeled in by Wheeler, whose turn it was when the mate yelled fish on!
Once recognized, Diamond Jim was frozen for inspection by DNR. Wheeler drove him to Annapolis for identification; proving her case then took her to Salisbury for a lie-detector test.
“This is state money, and we have to be careful of how we give it away,” Evans said.
Wheeler passed, though her good fortune remained secret until the big Giveaway on September 7. Now she plans more fishing and more time spent in Maryland.
“Diamond Jim has already encouraged me to travel around Maryland,” the lucky Virginian told Bay Weekly. “With $6,000 in tackle certificates to stores around the state, I’ll be further expanding my knowledge of Maryland and fishing possibilities.”
Diamond Jim, as you can imagine, was not so lucky.