Os is wizard when it comes to big catches

Bill Burton

November 23, 1990|By Bill Burton

I first met him 30 years ago at Ocean City as he hopped from a boat flying three odd blue flags decorated with a white T. This jaunty Washington businessman was a different kind of fisherman, too. He was beginning to work his way up the ladder of world big game anglers, and later accomplish things that would distinguish him among the very best.

The odd release flags told me he was a pioneer. Customary solid blue pennants signified a released white marlin; that new added T meant a billfish was tagged and released so if caught again fisheries scientists could learn more about migrations and survival of billfish.

I chatted numerous times with this angler who started the tagging program at OC, but won't forget 1967 at Wedgeport, Nova Scotia, when again he hopped gingerly from a boat at the International Tuna Cup Match. A giant had pulled free of his hook -- and hungry tuna were mighty scarce at Soldiers Rip.

He had a chance, and missed, but there was no looking back -- only ahead when by chance the American team he captained won one of the closest, most exciting big game fishing competitions ever.

Meet Os Owings, a transplanted Eastern Shoreman who started out catching perch in the Patuxent when 10. Now approaching 80, he can claim among other things the biggest fish ever caught in world competition, a 1,128-pound black marlin.

If it's a species of big fish, Os has caught countless of its clan. Not bad for a fellow who didn't try deep sea trophies until in his mid-30s -- and then quite by accident.

In 1948 while he and his wife Jeanette celebrated their 10t wedding anniversary in Bermuda they decided on the spur of the moment to charter a boat, and wound up with a 37-pound wahoo. He was hooked, and so was Jeanette, who would also make a name for herself in big game tournament angling.

Next he tried Ocean City aboard the late Capt. Frank Edwards Joy Belle that fished the Atlantic for marlin before returning each September to challenge upper Chesapeake rockfish.

Once Os realized big gamefish was his bag he rigged a barbe chair in his attic and trained rigorously to develop the back and forearm muscles needed for the big boys of the ocean. In 1955, at Cabo Blanco, Peru, he got one -- a 1,120-pound black marlin, just 8 pounds shy of his still existing tournament record.

Os earned the credentials to make him a captain of bluewater fishing teams. Talk about drama. In 1967, his U.S. crew got a last-minute tuna of 762 pounds that topped Canada's catch by only 8 pounds in a climax settled only when scales were flown in for a late evening weigh-in.

Then there's the 564-pound swordfish he lost; then declined the mate's offer to reel in the dead line. While reeling in himself, he rehooked and caught the sword as it followed the bait up.

In two consecutive years he got Ocean City's first white marlin; at Cabo Blanco he took the Big Four, black and blue marlin, big-eye tuna and swordfish.

It's all in his new book, "The Wizard is Os," a 196-page hardcover loaded with pictures of big fish and big names in big fish circles -- many of them who pioneered marlin chasing off OC. Remember Capt. Bill Burbage, Cap. Cal Lilliston, Jim O'Donnell, Perry Van Vleck and Elwood Harry? They're included. Autographed copies are available postpaid at $35; $28 with no autograph by writing Os Owings, Jamaica Point Farm, Trappe, Md. 21673. All profits go to conservation charities, including the Waterfowl Festival.

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