Herndon, VA, United States (4E Sports) – Television news producer Blair Wheeler became the first person to win the Diamond Jim fishing contest and its $25,000 cash prize when she caught a “19- to 20-pound rockfish” at Chesapeake Bay.
The 25-year-old Wheeler was among a record-high 39 anglers eligible for the top prize and one of 59 who caught striped bass designated by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources with the Diamond Jim tag between May 24 and Sept. 2.
However, she was the first to catch the real Diamond Jim since 1957, when one fish was designated with a diamond stud attached to its jaw.
Aside from the cash prize, Wheeler received a pair of 1-carat diamond stud earrings and six $1,000 gift cards from local tackle shops that sponsored the contest.
“I thought there was something wrong with the fish,” Wheeler said after seeing the chartreuse tag attached to it.
The Maryland DNR, led by fisheries ecologist Martin Gary, helped revive the contest nine years ago as part of the agency’s Maryland Fishing Challenge.
The event first ran between 1956 and 1958. Then sponsored by a local beer company, the contest had a winner in 1957.
Gary, for his part, credited longtime Evening Sun outdoors columnist Bill Burton as the person “most instrumental” in the revival of the event.
“Bill Burton hammered us for several years about how we should bring back the Diamond Jim,” Gary said. “He arrived at The Sun the second year they had the Diamond Jim, and he never forgot how much it inspired and excited people to go fishing.”
The format had changed over the past nine years as the grand prize, and the chances of winning it, went up.
Gary said the prize money in the Diamond Jim contest for one month rolls into the next if the Diamond Jim fish isn’t caught.
“By the third year, we were getting some feedback that everyone’s initial excitement wore off because the statistical odds of catching that one fish were pretty slim,” Gary said. “When we decided to split it up if nobody won it, people went wild with that.”