OCEAN CITY – With dozens of boats reporting double-digit releases including one local boat with a record 57 on Monday alone, the white marlin bite off the coast of Ocean City has been off the chart for the last week or so, perhaps confirming once and for all the sometimes questioned “White Marlin Capital of the World” title for the resort.
Throughout the summer, it became evident something special was going on with the white marlin bite off Ocean City. Momentum started building in early August when 550 white marlin were caught and released during the White Marlin Open and continued a week later when a record 558 whites were released during the Mid-Atlantic $500,000 tournament, the highest total in the 19 years of that event.
In the weeks since, it has been a common scene to see sportfishing boats returning to port with multiple white marlin release flags flying high, turning outriggers into high dollar clotheslines, but the bite reached a crescendo last weekend and into the early part of this week with most of the boats returning with double-digit releases. On Monday, perhaps the peak of the white marlin madness, Captain Jon Duffie and the crew on the Billfisher returned to home base at Sunset Marina with a stunning 57 white marlin releases, a new single-day record in Ocean City.
The 57 releases by the Billfisher crew came after the aptly named local boat returned with 22 white marlin releases on Sunday. Also on Monday, the nine boats that fished out of Sunset Marina caught and released 267 white marlin for an average of nearly 30 each. Among those with the highest single-day totals were the Cervesa (33), the Reel Joy (32), the Makara (32), the Tar Heel (30) and the Legasea (27).
Over at the Ocean City Fishing Center, the results were similar for the local fleet at the sister marina on Monday. The Moore Bills reported 25 white marlin releases on Monday, while the Playmate came in with 22 of its own. The Foolish Pleasures also had a big day on Monday after catching and releasing 23 on Sunday, while several other boats reported double-digit releases. At one point on Sunday, the All In out of the Ocean City Fishing Center reported having six white marlin hooked up at the same time.
“I’ve fished all over the world and this is as good as it gets anywhere,” said Ocean City Marlin Club President and Last Call Captain Franky Pettolina. “It’s been nothing short of amazing. Ocean City is called the White Marlin Capital of the World for a reason, and it’s not always evident why, but when you see something like this going on, I think it certainly validates that title.”
Sunset Marina Manager Brian Tinkler agreed with Pettolina’s assessment, calling the recent white marlin bite one of the best on record, if not the best.
“I’d say all summer long has been one of the most consistent white marlin bites in recent years, but what we’ve seen in the last week or 10 days has just been off the charts,” he said. “Some of our boats fish all over the world and they’ve said all week how they’ve never seen anything like this anywhere.”
Over at the Ocean City Fishing Center, Manager Jennifer Blount got a chance to see the white marlin mayhem first hand on Wednesday after collecting fish reports from the returning boats all weekend.
“I was out there yesterday [Wednesday] and it was just amazing,” she said. “White marlin were just swimming around the boat and cutting through the waves. I’ve never seen anything like it and most of these guys that have been around here forever are saying the same thing.”
Offshore fishing is a fickle sport and the billfish could disappear as quickly as they arrived in the last week or so, but Pettolina believes a combination of factors has led to the spike.
“I think there are a bunch of factors at work here,” he said. “Fishing by nature is cyclical and everything is just lined up perfectly right now. The closure of some areas to long-lining has certainly helped. The use of fish-friendly circle hooks has to be a factor, and I think it’s just a little better technology available.”
Tinkler agreed the conservation efforts of the sportfishing community over time have resulted in increased numbers of white marlin.
“Circle hooks have dramatically reduced mortality and, at the same time, increased the survival rate well into the 90-plus percent range,” he said. “I have to believe that is a contributing factor. The conservation ethic of the fishing community is paying dividends when you see a bite like this one.”
Pettolina said natural factors such as water temperature breaks and migration patterns have conspired to put the fish in the canyons off the coast, but technological advances have allowed local captains and crews to take advantage of the opportunity when it presents itself.
“There’s this new breed of captains and they are just so dialed in that they are prepared when the bite goes off the way it has here over the last week or so,” he said. “They have the best boats, the best technology and the best equipment. We’re better informed and the tackle and techniques are just better.”
With the uncertainties surrounding Earl and the potential impact on the resort area, it remains to be seen if the white marlin bite will pick up where it left off as the storm passes. In the meantime, the local fishing community is enjoying the record white marlin bite.
“It’s certainly wonderful for the local economy and it’s putting Ocean City on the map for all of the right reasons,” he said. “We’re not seeing a huge spike in charter traffic, but we are seeing a huge spike in folks getting down here and getting out on their boats. Folks are knocking each other out of the way trying to get out on those boats.”