At white marlin tourney, anglers show off fish that didn't get away

HOOKIONG THE BIG ONES

August 01, 1993|By Audrey Haar | Audrey Haar,Staff Writer

This week crowds will gather at the Harbour Island Marina on 14th Street and the bay to catch a glimpse of the big one that didn't get away.

Each day of the annual White Marlin Tournament, which begins tomorrow morning and continues through Friday evening, anglers will be angling for the catch that will bring home the money.

Last year, the tournament gave away $567,000 in prize money, and Bob Bell, a Baltimore auto dealer, drove off with the top prize of $240,599 for his 80 1/2 -pound white marlin.

White marlin fetches the highest prize, but there are also awards for blue marlin, tuna, wahoo, dolphin and shark.

There is a big difference in size between white and blue marlin. White marlin average about 50 pounds, and blue marlin can easily reach 200 pounds. Experienced anglers can usually bring in a white marlin in about 15 minutes once it is hooked. It is not unusual for anglers to struggle with a large blue marlin for six or eight hours, and end up losing the fish in the end.

The competition starts at 5:30 a.m. when the boats roar out of the inlet into the ocean. It is a spectacle that early risers can see from the southern end of the boardwalk and the beach.

Spectators who want to see the types of fish that are measured in pounds rather than inches should stop by the weigh-ins at Harbour Island Marina that take place nightly during the tournament from about 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.

When a big fish comes in, the crowd applauds and goes nuts, says Jim Motsko,who directs the tournament with his cousin, Chuck Motsko.

An angler who gets a heavy catch early in the week rejoices at first, "but then has to sweat the whole week" while waiting to see what else is brought in, says Mr. Motsko.

"It's become a carnival atmosphere," says Brad Watkins, an angler in the contest. "I fish all over the world, and there is nothing else like it."

The weigh-ins are worth watching because few deep-sea sport fishermen bring in their catches these days. In recent years, anglers in the spirit of sportsmanship have started releasing their catches after they are hooked or tagging their catches with a label before releasing them.

According to the Billfish Foundation in Miami, 85 percent to 90 percent of the billfish caught recreationally off the East Coast of the United States are released, and half that amount are tagged. Tags are valuable to researchers because they help them track migration patterns and family groups.

Ocean City is known for having a large population of white marlin in the summer, says John Spence, executive director of the Billfish Foundation.

The Ocean City tournament has weight minimums for the fish, which are designed to limit the numbers of fish that are killed and brought in.

In addition to big fish, spectators will also see huge recreational deep-sea fishing boats, many of which cost more than a million dollars and will be in the area just during the competition.

Last year, there were 222 boats in the contest with 1,200 anglers, and while expertise is important, there's also a bit of chance involved.

"Skill has something to do with it. Being in the right place also has something to do with it," says Dave Birkett, president of the Ocean City Marlin Club.

"It's that element of luck that gives everyone a chance," says Mr. Motsko. That's also why the anglers stay out until the last few minutes of the competition, he says.

Luck may have a role, but contestants must come up with their own cash before they can win anything. Most anglers participate in several competition categories that can end up costing them a couple of thousand dollars in entry fees. Add in the cost of the boat or charter, and the price tag easily climbs to several thousand dollars to fish in the event.

Anglers say they like going after white marlin because they can "see the fish before he strikes the bait," says Mr. Birkett.

"Seeing the fish in the water is what turns me on," he says, "and the chance to win a couple hundred thousand dollars."

Bystanders may think of fishing as a quiet, calm sport, but that's not the case, says Mr. Birkett. "On some of the boats, the people get so hyper and wired."

Even seasoned anglers get nervous when they spot a big fish, and many confess to getting shaky knees every time they bring one in.

"It's just as exciting today as it was 21 years ago," says Mr. Watkins. "Once the thrill is gone, it's time to pick up another sport."

Male anglers dominate the sport, but there are also a number of female participants. Many men took a long time to accept women, says Peggy Mumford, an Ocean City angler.

"If they find out that a woman is a good angler, then it usually doesn't matter," Mrs. Mumford says.

Most fishermen put out a variety of baits to lure a white marlin, which can feast at a buffet before getting hooked. "If you have six baits, he will check them all out," says Scott Walker, captain of the Natural.

In addition to the fun of fishing, Mr. Walker says he enjoys being on the ocean in the early morning hours. "You get to watch the ocean wake up. Birds show up, turtles are everywhere. . . . To be out there 60 miles, that is something you don't see in a rowboat."

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