The good news: We fished! The bad news: The fish didn’t cooperate. That can be the nature of bigeye tuna fishing — feast or famine.
Team Contender started its first day in the White Marlin Open at 6 a.m. Tuesday after laying off Monday. As we left the Harbour Island dock in Ocean City, Maryland, with our buddy boat, the Rock Doc, the day had already brightened to some degree. We were more than an hour — possibly two — behind the big sport-fish vessels. But we caught up and passed them on our way to Washington Canyon, cruising at 40 to 45 mph and getting 1 mpg.
We covered the 75 miles in less than two hours — in plenty of time to prepare for lines-in at 8:30 a.m. Seas remained relatively calm all day, though clouds and light rain set in at about 9:30 a.m. and stayed.
We joined a fleet of more than 30 boats and deployed eight lines, plus two daisy chains and a ballyhoo dredge. We had decided to try for bigeye tuna, because the bite has been off the chain up here this summer. Capt. Mike Sisto, our regional expert from New Jersey, rigged a variety of lures with single and double J-hooks. (Tournament rules mandate circle-hook use with dead bait, but our lures were unbaited.)
Because of that rule and because the white marlin tend to hang along the canyon edges and require lighter tackle and trolled ballyhoo, teams usually focus on tuna and blue marlin or on whites. So we were all in for tuna.
Our feelings were a little hurt when we heard the first boat radio a white marlin release at 8:40 a.m. Boats are not required to call in tuna, but they do have to report white or blue marlin. That first call was followed by three more, at 8:57, 9:01 and 9:19 a.m.
But we saw multiple pods of pilot whales milling about the surface, skipjacks busting, and a few cruising sharks. We saw one and possibly two boats hooked up. Our expectations ran high.
However, as the hours ticked away, and several interesting clusters of red on the Garmin sounder failed to produce a knockdown, we grew tired, restless and chilled from the constant spitting rain.
At lines out, we picked up and ran back to the dock. At the weigh-in three white marlin had joined the leaderboard (there are categories for weighed and released whites). At the time I left, a 77-pounder held the top spot. While I packed my gear, a 248 ½-pound bigeye came in, but many other boats remained in the queue. The tournament is updating its leaderboard and release stats in real time. To check out the most current information, click on this link.