As dusk falls upon Ocean City, scattered fishermen cast their lines into the surf on a tranquil beach that a few hours earlier was noisy and crowded with sun worshipers.
They've come to enjoy the quiet and maybe pull in a bluefish, sea trout or kingfish. Tomorrow they'll head over to the Route 50 bridge or a bayside pier and drop a line there. They can fish the bay for flounder in a skiff, try wreck-fishing on a party boat or go for big game fish on an offshore charter voyage.
When it comes to fishing, there's an ocean of opportunities in this Eastern Shore town. It is, after all, the White Marlin Capital of the World, and it will celebrate that title with the traditional White Marlin Parade and Craft Festival Saturday.
Also this weekend, avid anglers will gather at the Ocean City Convention Center for "Fishing Mania." This two-day extravaganza will feature seminars on offshore fishing and its high-tech tools, a computerized, simulated indoor fishing tournament, tackle demonstrations and opportunities to buy gear and sign up with captains for charter trips.
"It's a good place to see the latest in fishing equipment and learn about the newest techniques," said Jack Hennen, event coordinator and owner of Special Event Productions.
Fishing in Ocean City can be as simple and inexpensive as using your own rod or renting one at a tackle shop, buying tackle and bait and walking out to the beach or the bay to try your luck.
No license is required to fish in the saltwater bays and inlets in and around Ocean City or in the ocean. Surf fishing is permitted but not within 50 yards of swimmers or anyone on the beach between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. (That virtually eliminates daytime surf fishing on most pleasant summer days.)
If you own or rent a boat, you can motor about on the bay and fish. And there are headboats that offer public cruises, carrying as many as 150 fishermen onto the ocean or bay for half and full days. Rods, bait and tackle may be included or available for rent.
For a more intimate but costlier trip, charter a sport fishing boat. Groups of no more than six people go bottom fishing for mackerel, sea bass, tautog, sea trout and croakers around coastal shipwrecks that are now fish habitats.
Some passengers enjoy chunking for tuna attracted by cut-up pieces of baitfish tossed into the sea. Others prefer the excitement of excursions that travel 50 to 60 miles offshore to deep-water canyons for trolling with natural bait or green machine, zuker or feather lures for marlin, wahoo, mako shark, sailfish or mahi-mahi.
"The wide variety of fishing that's available is what makes it so attractive to come here," said Jeff Payne, owner of Fisherman's Marina. "There's always something going."
Those who prefer fishing as a spectator sport will enjoy %o tournaments throughout the season. The premiere event is the 25th annual White Marlin Open Aug. 3-7, when onlookers can watch more than 200 fishing boats race out of the inlet in the morning and return in the evening for weigh-ins of their catch.
Bait and tackle shops:
Bait and tackle shops offer fishing tips as well as rod and reel rentals and sales of bait and tackle. One-day rentals are $5 to $7 with deposits from $20 to $70 for a surf rod and sand spike or a lighter-weight bay rod.
Advanced Marina Bait & Tackle, 66th Street and the Bay, 410-723-2124.
Ake Marine, 12930 Sunset Ave., West Ocean City, 410-213- 0421.
Bahia Marina, 22nd Street and the bay, 410-289-7438.
Blue Marlin Tackle Co., Ocean City Fishing Center, West Ocean City, 410-213-0090.
Buck's Place, 11848 Assateague Road, 410-641-4177.
Fenwick Tackle, Maryland Avenue and Coastal Highway, Del., 302-539-7766.
Oyster Bay Tackle Shop, 116th Street and Coastal Highway, 410-524- 3433.
Skip's Bait & Tackle Shop, 210 Talbot St. 410-289-8555.
Fishing boat charters:
Small charter boats take bookings well in advance, so plan ahead. Group costs can range from $300 to $600 for a half-day trip and from $500 to $1,300 for a full day. Fishing gear and bait are usually included. Below are a few charter boats as well as marinas where charter fleets are docked.
The Angler, 312 Talbot St. on the bay, 410-289-7424. Two boats.
Bahia Marina, 22nd Street and the bay, 410-289-7438. Fleet of 14 boats.
Deep Blue Charters, Fisherman's Marina, 12806 Sunset Ave., West Ocean City, 888-874-6653. One boat.
Fisherman's Marina, 12806 Sunset Ave., West Ocean City, 410- 213- 2478. Fleet of 15 boats.
Harbour Island Bar and Marina, 14th Street and the bay, 410-289-3511. A few charter boats.
The Islander, Fisherman's Marina, 12806 Sunset Ave., West Ocean City, 410-641-4604 or 410-213-2478. One boat.
Ocean City Fishing Center and Marina Complex, Route 50 and Shantytown Road, 410-213-1121 or 800-322-3065. Fleet of 30 boats.
Ocean City Guide Service, 410-289-5520. Fleet of as many as six boats.
Skip's Bait & Tackle Shop, 210 Talbot St. 410-289-8555. Gives referrals for charter boats.
Talbot Street Pier, 311 Talbot St. and the bay, 410-289-9125 or 800-659-7703. Fleet of five boats.