• Published:June 19, 2014
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Ocean City, Maryland, offers more than a legendary white marlin bite. The beachside town is heralded as the "White Marlin Capital of the World," a title it richly deserves, but these fertile offshore fishing grounds yield up a slew of other pelagic species as well. Last year the tuna bite went completely off the charts, with hundreds of yellowfin taken on the chunk and record numbers of bigeyes caught on the troll.


The bite is already picking up speed this season. Crews targeting yellowfin tuna continue to find the fish along Washington Canyon where chunking is a tried-and-true method to catch fish, especially early in the morning or late in the day. Bigeye tuna also feed during low-light times of day, so dawn and dusk make up the prime times to find a chunky bigeye tuna along the rip. Yellowfin tuna can hit at any time during the day. I've found the yellowfin caught while chunking are generally smaller than those caught on the troll.


CANYON RUN


Because of the long runs involved, many tuna boats overnight in the canyons. The modern sport-fishing boat can easily cover the 200-mile round-trip from Ocean City to the offshore canyons in a reasonably short time. This allows crews to search further than ever before, and fish more hours. As always, make sure to check the latest Buoyweather forecast before departing on a multi-day trip.


Crews will often arrive on the grounds in late afternoon, troll until evening then switch to chunking, which they will do overnight until sunup. Crews generally then switch back over to trolling until it's time to head home.


In 2013, the bigeye bite was spread out over a larger area, with fish caught from Norfolk Canyon to Spencer Canyon. If bigeye tuna are the target, the edge of the canyon is the place to be.  Most bigeyes are caught along the 100-fathom curve using horse ballyhoo or large trolling lures. A lot of Mid-Atlantic boats also use a ballyhoo/Ilander. Blue-and-white is a popular color choice.


The best yellowfin tuna fishing will be in water near the 68-degree mark. You can find optimal water over an edge in anywhere from 20 to 100 fathoms. Water temps will change as currents push water off of the Gulf Stream. Check FishTrack's sea-surface temperature charts to pinpoint fishy water. Shallower water is usually best early in the season while the deeper depths produce during the summer and fall after the temps have gone up a bit.


Marlin prefer warmer water. Anything above 72 degrees along an edge or weed line is prime. Look for temperature breaks where bait can concentrate. I have had my best luck working along the 100-fathom line, but marlin may be caught in as little as 30 fathoms on out to more than 500 fathoms.


The direction of the current comes into play when working sharp drop-offs. When rips form, both marlin and tuna will be attracted to the area, but these rips are relatively rare off Ocean City.



EARLY DAYS


I began fishing out of Ocean City in the early 1970s when my brother-in-law Paul Coffin purchased a 22-foot Mako. With a limited fuel supply we had to pick our destinations carefully, because once we got out there we didn't have enough fuel to go anywhere else but home.  There was no GPS or even LORAN, just a compass and a Humminbird depth flasher that only went up to 60 fathoms. We knew we made it to the canyon when we saw lobster pots.


In those days, it was possible to find billfish closer to shore and Jack's Spot was one of the better locations. We would look for marlin indicators as soon as we crossed into 20 fathoms. When we saw whales, porpoise, slicks or birds, we threw the lines went in. Man how things have changed...


Then, as now, the number one marlin bait was a ballyhoo rigged either naked or behind a Sea Witch. We used 30-pound tackle, which is still the white marlin standard although the reels have changed from 4/0 Penn Senators to lighter reels such as the Shimano TLD 30.


During the past few years, a good number of crews started fishing live baits more often. Crews will look for schools of tinker mackerel then jig up a livewell full before rigging up a daisy chain with these fish. The daisy chain is trolled until the captain spots some white marlin. Then a live tinker is fed back to the billfish. Reports indicate double-digit catches are possible using this tactic with the right anglers.


TOURNAMENT TIME


The Ocean City Marlin Club has disqualified this form of live-bait fishing for those who participate in their annual tournament. The White Marlin Open made anything other than trolling illegal for their contest several years ago to keep chummers from winning the shark division every year.


This year the White Marlin Open celebrates its 42nd year and it's still going strong. I fished the very first tournament with the man who started the whole thing, Jim Motsko. The White Marlin Open grew to become one of the world's biggest offshore tournaments in terms of size and prize money. The WMO attracts top boats and scores of spectators to Ocean City every year to compete for million-dollar checks. Last year an 83-pound white marlin beat out a fleet of 262 boats, earning $1,201,743 for Tommy Jones and the crew of the Kingfisher.


The tournament kicks off in early August, but you can expect the first white marlin of the season to be caught sometime in June. Many thought the long, cold winter of 2014 might delay the arrival of billfish, but since the newer boats can run south as far as the Triple Zeroes off of Virginia Beach it's possible to find fish early in June. In fact, John Henry aboard No Worries caught the first white marlin of 2014 on June 11 - a healthy 100-pounder. The fish earned the crew national recognition and a $10,000 prize from the Ocean City Marlin Club and town of Ocean City.


Ocean City is a major resort town with accommodations ranging from four-star luxury to the bare necessities. Charter boats that specialize in offshore fishing are plentiful, and visiting boats can find docking facilities at the town's numerous marinas. I can recommend Sunset Marina in West Ocean City. They can handle any size boat and have all the amenities the boater/fisherman could want.


Combine a hot tuna and white marlin bite with plenty of dolphin, good numbers of wahoo, the occasional sailfish and blue marlin topping 1,000 pounds, and you have an offshore fishing location second to none.


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