In these days of glitzy flecked plastic lures, equally fancy teasers, and ready-rigged fozen baits for offshore trolling it's nice to hear of a noteworthy catch on a plain old cedar plug -especially when it's the first white marlin of the year
Yes, Ocean City's first billfish showed up Saturday at the Washington Canyon, thanks to Dave Burkett of Edgewater. He was trolling a cedar plug for tuna, the first of which are just moving up from off North Carolina where the run was hot.
The catch was made aboard Bill Woodard's Shadow Fax, a private boat -- fittingly enough out of the White Marlin Docks. The fish barely made the new minimum length, measuring at 62 1/2 inches and weighing 43 pounds.
But the first one -- regardless of size -- is the biggie of the year, especially when its catch marks the second earliest a white has been taken off O.C. since billfishing began in the 1930s. It was topped only by a June 8 catch in 1986.
Maybe this means the marlin comeback will continue. It's gradually climbing after dipping to several hundred a year in the 1980s. We're nowhere near the couple thousand a year not unusual in the '70s, but last year the reported catch was 1,042 of which 959 were released.
Back in the good old days, half of the billfish were mounted, making taxidermy a thriving business. No more; nine out of 10 promptly go back due to the big conservation drive of National Marine Fisheries Service. Just recently Mexico banned all long-lining for billfish.
There were also radio reports Saturday of a second white taken at Washington Canyon by a boat out of Indian River Inlet, but this couldn't be confirmed.
Some tuna also showed at that distant canyon, including a 47-pound yellowfin taken aboard Capt. John Dahl's Top Gun, which charters out of Ocean City Fishing Center. Expect some bluefins mixed in with tuna through early July.
The fourth annual Ocean City Tuna Tournament, headquartered at Ocean City Fishing Center, is scheduled July 12-14, with a $50,000 bonus for topping the world record big-eye of 375 pounds caught off O.C. in 1977 by Eastern Shoreman Cecil Browne.
The entry fee is $450 a boat, anglers can fish only two of the three days -- and within 100 miles of Ocean City. Call 1-301-289-8121.
Until tuna and marlin arrive in goodly numbers, there's much else to do offshore. Bluefish of 10 pounds and up are plentiful near the Jackspot, reports Lloyd Lewis of Talbot Street Pier.
For something bigger, try sharks. Blues, tigers, sand tigers, duskys and makos are plentiful -- and the latter is as fighting and jumping a creature that swims. Many big game fishermen would prefer a large mako to a billfish -- and not just because its flesh is comparable to that of a swordfish.
Pound for pound, the mako is probably the strongest of all fish, and on the hook it will leap more -- and higher than a billfish. For one to clear the water by six feet is not unusual. Add to this, unusually long runs, and an aggressive attitude when brought near the boat, and you have big game fishing at its best.
As with billfish, the wide-open days of shark fishing are also drawing to a close. Feared by swimmers and many boaters, sharks are loved by offshore anglers, and most important by National Marine Fisheries Service, now in the final stages of a management plan to reduce catches by both the recreational and commercial fleet.
By Oct. 1, regulations could be implemented to control the harvest of 39 different species. Apparently dropped is the original one shark a day per angler maximum for the more popular large coastal and pelagic species. During a series of 22 coastal public hearings, there were complaints that it was too lenient.