Offshore menu is triple helping of tuna


July 14, 1996|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

Craig Downs isn't entered in the Ocean City Tuna Tournament next weekend, but a day spent fishing offshore Tuesday had him thinking maybe he should have been.

"That tournament is big bucks and kind of hard to justify on what I make," Downs said Thursday night as he worked over the grill at his Jarrettsville home. "But maybe I could have made it worth it. It seems I'm pretty lucky."

On Tuesday, Downs and five other anglers were aboard Commocean, a 53-foot charter boat out of the Ocean City Fishing Center, while Capt. Jim Swagler worked 57 fathoms of water north of Washington Canyon.

"I guess we left the docks about 6 a.m., and ran out for about two hours before we started trolling," said Downs, manager of the Putty Hill Body Shop. "And there really wasn't much going on. But then, about 9 a.m., three bigeye tuna hit all at once. Lines were crossed, going this way and that."

The first tuna "busted a 150-pound test leader like it was nothing," said Swagler.

"But I happened to jump into the fighting chair first and got the second one in in about 45 minutes," said Downs, whose first fish of the day weighed in at 224 pounds. "And when I finished, one of the other guys, who was stand-up fishing until then, jumped in the chair."

The fight went on, while Downs and Jim Gilbert, owner of County Radio, cheered on the action.

"But then the guy in the chair got tired and I got in and finished the fight," said Downs, who has been friends with Gilbert for many years and was fishing Tuesday with a group of Gilbert's business associates.

Landing the third fish took 2 hours, 25 minutes, and the bigeye weighed in at 243 pounds.

"They said it was the biggest tuna of the season to that point," said Downs, who gets down to the ocean once or twice a year to head offshore. "And the captain and mate were saying that if that had been in the tuna tournament, we'd have been in the money for sure."

The world record for Atlantic bigeye tuna is 375 pounds, set by Cecil Browne of Trappe while fishing off Ocean City in 1977.

With Hurricane Bertha forcing postponement of the Ocean City Tuna Tournament from this weekend to next, it might be hard to figure where the bigeye are hitting.

But Thursday night, the day before his 45th birthday, Downs knew for certain where his bigeye was -- on the grill.

"I guess I am kind of lucky," said Downs, a divorced father of two. "I get to go offshore once or twice a year and see things other people maybe never see.

"A couple of years ago, we hooked up with an 11-foot blue marlin estimated at 400 pounds -- and to see something that size jump out of the water and twist and turn, it's really something."

The blue marlin shook the hook, Downs said, but still the opportunity made the trip worthwhile.

"I like fishing," said Downs, who takes his 11- and 13-year-old children to Loch Raven and Prettyboy reservoirs and often fishes the Choptank River for rockfish. "But the deep-sea fishing is the best because you see so many different things.

"This year it was 10 beluga whales we came upon."

Not to mention three bigeye tuna striking in the blink of an eye, and each well over 200 pounds.

Pub Date: 7/14/96

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