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A MYRIAD OF MARLIN
From the Gulf Coast northward recent weeks have been ones of fulfillment for salt-water anglers, but an abnormally exuberant dispatch from Ocean City, Md. ("We are having a phenomenal white martin run") prompted on-the-scene investigation by the OUTDOOR WEEK editor. Herewith Lineaweaver's report:
It isn't as if Ocean City has any record of past mediocrity to live down. In 1935 Paul and John Townsend, sons of the governor and later U.S. Senator from Delaware, John G. Townsend, brought Captain Bill Hatch from Miami and validated their conviction that Maryland water was marlin water. During August, 20-odd seaward miles southeast by east of Ocean City in a stretch of shoal known as the Jack Spot, the Townsends raised over 60 marlin to their baits. That same summer S. Kip Farrington Jr., a man who did much to develop American big game fishing, joined the Townsends and took a marlin on 9-thread. Ocean City and the Jack Spot had arrived.
The Jack Spot continues productive and Ocean City has become a white-marlin port probably without equal north of Cuba. Also, I discovered last week, it suffers from a logical marlin monomania. Marlin steak, quite good, is a menu feature. Mounted marlin hang in bars, restaurants, drug stores and motels. The waterfront is a forest of outriggers belonging to a fleet of almost 100 sport-fishing craft many of which have marlin painted on their flying bridges and all of which roar out of Sinepuxent Inlet at 7 a.m. It is an awesome sight. Steaming time to the Jack Spot and environs is approximately two hours. It can be spent in reflection, sleep or banter.
I sat in the cockpit of Captain Bill Rodenbaugh's Belle II and pried figures out of Mate Wardie Jarvis. They served to justify use of the word phenomenal to describe Ocean City's current marlin season. "Biggest year we ever had," said Wardie, "was '39. The fleet caught 1,343 marlin, released 84. Up to yesterday—July 18, wasn't it?—we had almost 800 fish and over 500 releases. Conservation's, catchin' on, I guess. If this keeps up through September we're a cinch to beat '39. I've got a lot of marlin fishing years behind me," added Wardie, "but I never saw anything like this."
Offshore fishing even in periods of plenitude is a chancy pursuit, and despite Wardie's and Ocean City's collective enthusiasm I expected one of those days of inactivity the epilogue to which is something to the effect that you should have been here last week. But this day was far from inactive. As we reached the marlin grounds, sailor gulls (shearwaters) planed and Mother Carey's Chickens (Wilson's petrels) skittered across the light chop, dipping now and then to snatch a small fish. It was a hopeful sign. The ocean's ecological progression dictates that larger fish feed on smaller ones. Hope became a reality as a shower of bait rose under the birds and a sickle-shaped fin cut the water. Marlin were feeding.
Captain Rodenbaugh circled the birds, and Wardie streamed whole squid baits in the wake. I fiddled and fussed with my tackle, injected the reels with an extra dose of oil, checked the drag, and fretted about whether I should have bought new line. The radiotelephone dinned a constant stream of interboat chatter of marlin seen finning, marlin raised, hooked and released. It is a blas� angler who is untouched in such circumstances.
I saw the shape behind one of my baits, then a fin, then a bill. The bait disappeared in a swirl. We had raised a marlin, and it had struck. I dropped back, and the spool accelerated. The fish was running with the squid. I threw the 4/ 0 reel in gear. My rod bowed, 15-thread line stripped out against the drag, and the marlin soared skyward in those antics which make it an acrobatic medley on light tackle.
It leaped five times within 50 yards of the boat and ran hard. Captain Rodenbaugh quartered and I retrieved some line. At this stage it was pump and crank, and Rodenbaugh took time to advise other boats that "my man is on a fish," and would release it if and when it was brought to the boat. By now I had been pumping a stubborn marlin for 10 minutes and my left arm was fast petrifying. There was still a hundred yards of line out, and the fish was still fresh. I hoped it would breach again. It did. In 10 years of offshore angling I have seen few marlin function more splendidly. It came out of water 11 times with hardly a pause between jumps. It greyhounded, tail walked, and simply bounced up and down. With that it was done. It sounded and sulked, and five minutes later lay exhausted by the boat. Wardie cut the leader and the fish finned slowly downward. "He'd go about 65 pounds," said Rodenbaugh. The world record white marlin is 161 pounds. My fish was average, but marlin enough.
All in all we raised 13 fish during my day at Ocean City. We hooked four, three of which threw the hook, and released the one. Another boat had raised 27 fish. One had released nine. I returned to the dock, collected the cigaret lighter which the Ocean City Marlin Club awards for the angler's first released fish and drove home with renewed faith in the veracity of our Ocean City correspondent.