02/13/09 — Dogfish tournament begins fishing year

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Dogfish tournament begins fishing year

By Mike Marsh
Published in Sports on February 13, 2009 1:46 PM

For the last four years, the first fishing event of North Carolina's pier-fishing season has been the Johnnie Mercer's Pier Annual Dogfish Tournament.

This year's event was held in January. The event's timing was pushed back to hit prime feeding time for the small sharks, which occurs in the evening.

The tournament was the brainchild of some of the regular fishermen at Johnnie Mercer's Pier as a way to get together in what was formerly known as the "off season." They wanted out of the winter fishing doldrums and started the tournament to shake off cabin fever.

"A bunch of us were sitting around watching the Super Bowl and decided we would rather be fishing," said Rick Britt, one of the tournament organizers. "We knew dogfish were biting and it didn't really matter what we were catching, as long as we were fishing. This is a great opportunity for friends to get together and pursue their love of fishing."

There were few participants the first couple of years. However, thanks to word of mouth, a couple of articles and the Internet, the 2008 Dogfish Tournament had 46 participants.

No dogfish were caught the first year. But the later fishing hours changed all that last year when a number of dogfish were weighed in. This year, 49 participants entering 70 rods came from as far away as Columbus, Ohio, and everyone caught plenty of dogfish. Jeremy Vines caught 16 dogfish -- the largest number of any participant. More than 150 dogfish were landed by tournament participants.

Pier owner Matt Johnson hosts the event. He was very excited to see the tournament grow, drawing more fishermen and their families each year.

"This event was a great idea and it comes in a time of the year when people are dying to try out some new fishing equipment they got for Christmas," said Johnson. "It's also a great event for kids because dogfish are easy to catch."

Dogfish are excellent eating. In fact, they are one of the species in the English fried culinary delight of fish and chips. There are two dogfish species -- spiny and smooth dogfish. The smooth dogfish averages two to three feet in length but can exceed 26 pounds in weight. The spiny dogfish also averages two to three feet in length, but only reaches top weights of around 15 pounds. The spiny dogfish has light spots on the sides and has sharp spikes on the dorsal fins that can issue a painful stab.

Despite the fact that dogfish fish offer good eating, the Dogfish Tournament requires any fish entered in the competition to be released alive. James Neal, who works at Johnnie Mercer's Pier and is always involved in any event, said although the fish were sharks, anglers treated the fish with respect.

"It's nice to see so many people respecting this resource and letting the fish go unharmed," said Neal.

The importance of the event to beach anglers is that it tells them fish are biting all times of the year, even in winter. Other fish caught from the pier in January included speckled trout, sea mullet, skates and red drum.

Al Baird is the founder of the North Carolina Fishing Pier Society and a co-founder of the North Carolina Public Access Foundation Inc. Baird presented trophies to the winning anglers on behalf of the two organizations.

The cost to participate was a mere $5 per rod plus the normal pier fee of $8 per rod. Baird and Mercer's Pier as well as other sponsors donated door prizes. Cash prizes were also awarded.

The weather is usually very cold. But this year, the weather was pleasant, although the sky was overcast.

"I was a little disappointed the weather wasn't worse," said Corry Birchall of Fort Mill, S.C. "I had gotten some foul weather gear for Christmas and I wanted to try it out."

In other news:

* Ed Aswell, of Goldsboro, attended the George Poveromo Saltwater Sportsman Seminar Series in Wilmington, which was co-hosted by Mike Marsh. Aswell entered the NCPAF and won. He received a calendar "A Year at the Coast, Beaches of North Carolina" as well as the book, "Wrightsville Beach." Mike Marsh and Baird, co-founders of the NCPAF, presented the prizes to Aswell.

"Access to the water is one of the most important issues for fishermen," said Aswell. "I was happy to make a donation to NCPAF."