|The Thrill of the Deep
On the heels of the richest fishing tournament in the world - the 27th annual White Marlin Open that paid out a total of nearly $1.5 million - Karl Roscher and I set out from Ocean City Inlet to strike our own form of angling gold. We were not in one of the million-dollar sportfishers, those lean mean fish fighting machines that led the way out to the fishing grounds, their diesel engines growling in anticipation of the run. We took my boat, a 20-foot power catamaran aptly named VooDoo Cat, which nimbly handled the four-foot swells and would eventually bring us good mojo.
Leaving the inlet in the half-light of the new day, we felt our excitement build in unison with the waves. The open ocean is an endless source of power and mystique, inviting us to ply its daunting emerald seas and offering challenges of big, tough gamefish.
We set the anchor at the Hambone, a recently hot area some 35 miles off Ocean City. As we tossed overboard cut chunks of butterfish, supplemented by a soupy slick of bunker, we discussed strategy. Who would fight the first fish and how would we eventually release it or gaff it? In the midst of this talk, line suddenly screamed from the off-port reel. Roscher yanked it from the holder, and the game was afoot. Was this beast a tuna? And if so, what kind of tuna: a yellowfin, bluefin, or perhaps a longfin albacore, which has made a strong appearance this summer? Perhaps it was a wahoo that was punishing the reel?
For the first minutes, line evaporated from the reel. Eventually, Karl regained line, but control was short lived as the fish ran from astern to the bow. Briefly, it broke the surface and revealed its signature dorsal fin. It was a shark, and without warning it demonstrated its raw power, exploding out of the water like a Tomahawk missile (Tom Clancy fans forgive me if I have erroneously given this weapon aquatic properties).
Karl settled in for the fight, and indeed it was a barroom brawl, sheer bedlam at times as we scrambled to keep up with the fish's runs. It circled the boat three times, forcing us to bring the rod over, under, then back over the anchor line. Two more acrobatic jumps took the fish completely out of the water as it soared toward the azure in angry protestation. That exhibition alone made the rough trip worthwhile. After nearly an hour, we were able to bring it alongside. A shortfin mako shark, nearly seven feet long and perhaps 175 to 200 pounds, drifted gently beside us, momentarily whipped from battle.
When I saw the creature up close, time flowed like chilled molasses. It was surreal, the shark's streamlined body a deep blue that gave way to white sides. We leadered it closer for some photos before it shook the hook. It was an awesome sight to be so close to one of the ocean's top predators, and it released an intoxicating rush of adrenaline. And, thankfully, addictive.
Fish are Biting
Kathy from Bunkers in Solomons reports big spot and croaker hitting the hook with frequency, including 12-inch jumbo spot with girth of nine inches. Look for flounder around the mouth of the Patuxent River as well and off Drum Point. Rockfish are stacked up around the Gas Docks.
According to Darren from Angler's, the spot and hardhead bite best on squid and worms and remain steady off Sandy Point and Tolly's and Hackett's bar. The Bay Bridge pilings hold nice white perch that are partial to bloodworms and grass shrimp. Also, breaking bluefish, with some trout beneath, take spoons and feather jigs. Flounder along the edges off Gum Thickets and Brickhouse Bar are taking squid and minnows.