Easy Access to World-Class Fishing
For the offshore-afflicted, Ocean City, Maryland, is one of the truly top-notch destinations in the continental United States
For most of the year, Ocean City is a sleepy seaside community that’s home to fewer than 10,000 residents, but the population can swell to over 300,000 once spring and summer roll around. Most come to enjoy the sun, sand and surf, as well as the attractions along the city’s 3-mile-long boardwalk. But if you’re a big-game angler, it’s the offshore fishing you’re after.
Access to deep water wasn’t always easy out of Ocean City, but a vicious August storm in 1933 cut a new channel from the Atlantic Ocean to Sinepuxent Bay, effectively severing Ocean City from Assateague Island to the south. The Army Corps of Engineers took advantage of the natural intervention and made the inlet permanent. With a new harbor and easy access to the cities of Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and others, Ocean City soon became one of the premier sport-fishing destinations on the East Coast.
White Marlin Open
Part of the allure of Ocean City comes from the hordes of white marlin that invade the offshore waters during the summer. Early pioneers racked up incredible numbers of these feisty billfish, and word quickly spread that when the whites were thick as thieves, it was time to head out there and catch as many as you could. The creation of the White Marlin Open in 1974 further cemented the town’s reputation as the “White Marlin Capital of the World.” Since those early years, the tournament has grown in both size and stature, with several hundred boats competing for well over $1 million in prize money every August.
Over the years the tournament has witnessed some incredible catches, including Maryland’s first grander, a blue marlin weighing 1,062 pounds caught during the 2009 White Marlin Open by Robert Farris on No Problem. The tournament-record white marlin, a 99-pounder, came back in 1980 when Steve Bass reeled in the winner aboard Top Hat. The White Marlin Open is also one of the most spectator-friendly fishing events in the world, drawing thousands of curious onlookers eager for a glimpse of a winning fish. It truly is a sight to behold, and this year the White Marlin Open celebrates its 42nd anniversary, making it one of the longest-running billfish tournaments in the United States.
But whether you come for the tournament or just for a couple of days of offshore excitement, it’s hard to beat the fishing out of Ocean City. The local charter fleet is on par with the best along the East Coast. When the bite is on, they’re as dialed in as anyone. The usual spread built with natural-bait dredges and chin-weighted ballyhoo rigged with circle hooks for targeting white marlin will also catch just about anything that roams the offshore waters, including blue marlin, mahimahi, yellowfin and blackfin tuna — and even a wahoo from time to time. But when the whites are in town, most boats will concentrate on targeting them and actively seek fish that are feeding on the surface and tailing down-sea with the swells. When using appropriately sized 20- to 30-pound tackle, white marlin are among the most acrobatic of the billfish species, not to mention the most beautiful. And it’s not uncommon for a big blue marlin or oversize bigeye tuna to crash the party either.
The attractions don’t end there, though. If a 60-mile run to the canyons is not in the cards, the inshore and bay fishing is very good and is a great alternative to a long run in questionable weather. Kids love the famed Ocean City Boardwalk, with its multitude of attractions, arcades, shops and stands to explore. And since Ocean City is the ultimate tourist-friendly destination, there is a very wide range of accommodations available, from simple bungalows all the way to five-star luxury resorts. It’s one of the best fishing hot spots in the world to bring the entire family, and there’s plenty to see and do if they choose to stay ashore.
A final measure of a great destination is the talent it produces. Spend some time in just about any sport-fishing port from Oregon Inlet to Stuart, Florida, throughout the Caribbean or in the Pacific, and you’re sure to find dedicated, professional captains and deckhands who proudly trace their fishing roots directly back to Ocean City.
One reason for Ocean City’s popularity is the relative ease to get there, either by flying or driving from the metropolitan centers of the East Coast. Three miles west of downtown Ocean City is the Ocean City Municipal Airport, which serves private planes and charter aircraft, but the nearby Salisbury-Ocean City Wicomico Regional Airport provides the closest commercial air service. There is only a single major north-south thoroughfare, Maryland Route 528, which is called the Coastal Highway. The town itself is very easy to navigate, but it can get quite congested in the summer, so remember that patience is indeed a virtue.