Trolling the Choptank River comes naturally to fourth-generation Dorchester County native Bret Dean. He and his best friend since childhood, Chris Bow, grew up fishing together there, and still do.
In 2014, while out enjoying a beverage, Dean and Bow literally drew up their idea to launch a tournament on a bar napkin. The impromptu plan called for anglers to compete for prize money while helping contribute to those in the community who could use a few extra bucks.
The idea not only caught on but continued to grow every year since, becoming one of the largest in Maryland, with 131 boats taking part last year.
"Since 2014, we've been able to give back to 54 different organizations, individuals and families who need a helping hand, including at least two with kids fighting cancer," Dean said. Haven Ministries and Meals Til Monday are just a few of the groups they've felt proud to help. And during Covid, as funding got tight for area youth sports, the tournament contributed to Tri City Little League and lacrosse teams.
From the outset, numerous local sponsors have gotten on board to support what the website bills as “The Largest Single Day Rockfish Tournament.”
It's also noteworthy for being specific to one locale only – the Choptank River, a designation which helps create a level competitive field, according to Dean.
Rules posted on the tournament's website and included in each captain's registration packet lay out firm boundaries, stating that "Fishing is restricted to the Choptank and its tributaries, no farther to the bay than Buoy 10 to Cook's Point and Buoy 10 to Black Walnut Point."
This year's event is slated for Saturday, Oct. 22, with lines in the water at 7 a.m., lines out at 2:30 p.m., weigh-in by professionals on official scales at Long Wharf Park starting at 2 p.m., and a 3:30 p.m. deadline for all boats to be in line or weighed.
The tournament is scheduled to fit within what's roughly a three-week favorable window for rockfish, Dean added.
Factors affecting the fish include temperature, wind and even a full moon.
"If there's a full moon, they'll eat all night long. And it comes down to temperature, too. As it starts to get cooler, they school up and are more plentiful," Dean said.
Participants registering with a $75 entry fee are eligible for the 50 different ways to win prize money, with a record payout recorded last year, Dean noted.
The varied Calcutta entry categories include:
Single Largest Fish (Best Entry Per Boat), Two Fish (Total Weight of Maximum Two Fish), Catch and Release, Kids 15 and Under (Shannon Pickens, Working Girl Charters, regularly guarantees $500 minimum prizes to top three junior anglers), Early Bird (free entry), Ladies (Single Largest Fish), Four Fish (Total Weight Maximum Four Fish), Last Place (Smallest Fish per Weight, tournament’s most popular Calcutta), Key West, G3, May-Craft, and Yamaha Outboards, all sponsored by Gootee's Marine.
Among the 32 longstanding sponsors involved are: Terra Nova Design, Blue Water Marine Specialists, Jeff's Service Center, Funk Audio and Marine Electronics, Ferry Point Marina, Preston Automotive Group, Johnny's Tavern, Coastal Countertops, Yacht Maintenance Co., M.A. Fabrications, Robert Bell Jr./General Contractor, Tanks Direct, Total Home Performance, and Rusty Hook Bait and Tackle.
Beyond the fun of fishing for dollars, Dean and Bow have aimed from the start to bring a unique sense of celebration to the entire event, from start to finish.
This year, two captain's meetings doubled as kickoff parties at the East New Market Firehouse and at Portside Restaurant, featuring free giveaways, prizes, music, food, tables laden with tempting fishing goodie raffle prizes and a trove of signature Rock the Choptank shirts and hoodies for sale (a shirt is also included in the registration fee, as is the celebratory post tournament weigh-in meal).
While the tournament pays official weighers and several others, about 20 volunteers also help out, Bow noted, among them, his mom, Lynn Riley.
At the Portside Captains meeting/kickoff event, while selling additional shirts, Riley explained that she was glad to do it, since many of the tournament guys have spent hours each year helping out with an event sponsored by an organization she's been involved with, Wreaths Across America.
This year, on Dec. 17, they'll again spend hours unloading thousands of wreaths which have traveled from Maine to be placed on each headstone at the Eastern Shore Maryland Veterans Cemetery in Hurlock.
For more information, visit rockthechoptank.com and the event's Facebook page, which will feature live coverage on Saturday.