Not Just Another Fish Story (Part One) – Daily Local
It was hardly a promising prognosis.
“Just so you know, this season we had the worst fishing we’ve had in the last ten years. We’ll do our best to catch anything that bites, but if the fish isn’t there, there’s nothing we can do about it.
It was a few ticks before five a.m. Saturday morning when the charter boat Rhonda’s Osprey with our crew of six fishermen on board was pushed off the dock at Fisherman’s Marina in Ocean City, Maryland. It was then that his companion Eric Strauss entered the cabin and delivered this pessimistic prognosis. of our pathetic pool prospects. It wasn’t the report any of us wanted to hear.
Needless to say, Strauss’s dismal assessment sank our initially hopeful expectations of boating some tasty tuna from the sky to the depths of the Mariana Trench. So we braced ourselves for what would probably become nothing more than a long and expensive boat ride. I had booked this trip with Captain Joe Drosey aboard the sturdy Rhonda’s Osprey, a 60ft Taylor Harrison Custom Carolina boat, a few weeks ago. I had originally inquired about an overnight trip, but since night outings had been unproductive, Drosey couldn’t recommend one, so we opted for a day trip. Another caveat to this trip would be the added expense of record high diesel gas prices. The price of $3800 for the trip (with an additional 20% surcharge for the required tip from the companion) made this business much more expensive than it would have been a year or two ago.
Nevertheless, after a few landlocked years ashore, the six of us were eager to finally get back out to sea and test our angling luck. My brother Dan from Brookhaven, Steve Wright from West Chester, Pete Werner from West Chester and Werner’s buddies Keith Ebersole from Manheim and Lee Shertzer from Lancaster joined me in this potentially misguided venture. While Dan, Werner and I had done a few offshore trips together in the past and Ebersole was a seasoned sailor, this trip would be the first of its kind for Wright and Shertzer. Ebersole expressed the right optimistic outlook despite our potentially gloomy outlook. “No matter what happens or doesn’t happen,” he said, “it’s always going to be an adventure.” It was the exemplary positive vision that the rest of us shared.
As Rhonda’s Osprey headed out to sea towards Poor Man’s Canyon under overcast skies, we established our six-man fishing rotation. Werner, fresh from knee surgery, volunteered to go last and yours truly, always the gracious host, chose to go second last. The other four draw cards to determine the fishing order. The luck of the draw put Dan first, followed by Shertzer, Ebersole and Wright. We covered the 64 mile hike in time and arrived at the fishing grounds just east of Poor Man’s Canyon shortly after sunrise. At 7 a.m., we were fishing eight lines in choppy seas, conditions Strauss said were “perfect.”
Despite these “perfect conditions”, our expectations remained lower than low thanks to Strauss’ daunting assessment. According to Strauss, Osprey charters had only caught (and released) four white marlins all year compared to more than 50 white marlin catches so far last year. Taking part in this year’s White Marlin Open earlier this month, in three days of intensive fishing, the Osprey team had only caught and released two fish – a white marlin and a blue marlin, a feat that somehow propelled them to 32nd place out of 408 boats that fished the tournament. “Of 408 boats fishing throughout the five-day tournament, only two white marlins brought to the scale reached the minimum weight of 70 pounds,” Strauss said. “That includes the 76-pound marlin which won a record $4,500,000,000 on the last day.”
These abysmal catch statistics marking this year’s White Marlin Open (only one qualifying blue marlin was weighed in and not a single fish was caught on the second day of the tournament) reflected just how well offshore fishing d ‘Ocean City has been historically lousy this year. Strauss offered a theory as to why. “We had a consistent westerly wind all year that pushed the warmer water where the fish feed increasingly offshore and out of reach of the Ocean City fishing fleet,” said- he declared. Although there are still billfish and tuna, they are said to be rare, as illustrated by the lackluster tournament results. “For now, we’re just looking for what bends a rod,” Strauss confessed.
The strategy for the day was to drag eight lines at various distances behind the boat from short lines at 60ft with long lines at 150ft with others staggered in between. The terminal tackle on seven of the lines consisted of both a bare ballyhoo and a skirt with a line set for blue marlin baited with a blue marlin stopper, all hauled at a speed of 8 knots. As the fishery began, Strauss, a seasoned deep sea veteran with 22 years of mating for Drosey, taught the team the art of hauling in a tuna.
After dragging lines around Poor Man Canyon for half an hour, the unlikely happened: At 7:25 a.m. a tuna hit a bait and one of the rods immediately bent to the task . Mate Strauss and his assistant, Sean Griffith, rushed to clear the deck as Dan, first, put on the battle belt and took Strauss’ curved rod that remained in his ear to train him. Our lowest expectations for the day had suddenly been exceeded as Dan pumped the rod and worked the reel with help from Strauss. But our hopes were quickly dashed when, after just a few minutes, the struggling tuna cast the hook.
Strauss surmised that the fish had probably torpedoed towards the boat, an action that put slack in the line. Then, when Dan failed to reel in fast enough to hold the hook firmly in place, it gave the Tuna a chance to cast the hook. At least that was the second’s theory of what had happened. According to Strauss, one of the first rules of tuna fishing is to “always bend the rod”. Otherwise, the fish will probably jerk like this.
Of course, we were all disappointed that the fish had been lost, but by the same token, those few minutes of action were more than we bargained for after Strauss’ discouraging “pep talk” at the dock. But none of us, not Drosey, not Strauss, not Griffith could be prepared for what was to happen next.
– Next week, the conclusion of our epic fish story. Spoiler alert: No, the boat is not sinking.
Hunters’ Night Out >> The people of Chester County Backyard Bucks and Whitetails Unlimited are gearing up for hunting season by hosting their Hunters Night Out at the United Steelworkers Hall in Coatesville on Saturday, September 10, starting at 4:00 p.m. with a buffet dinner at 6:00 p.m. h. This popular fundraising event includes a dinner, auction, raffles and outdoor-themed prizes including firearms, hunting and camping gear, outfitting packages, animal artwork and more. Proceeds from the event benefit youth programs in and around Chester County. For ticket information, contact Art Lyle at 484-643-6132, Andy at 610-505-6676 or visit the website at www.whitetailsunlimited.com.
Tom Tatum is the outside columnist for the MediaNews group. You can reach him at [email protected]