When it comes to fishing, Ocean City has a long history, recreationally as well as commercially. Until 1933, the town lacked an inlet. When boats returned to land, full of fish, teams of horses dragged the vessels up the beach. But that changed in 1933 when a powerful unnamed hurricane ripped open what is now the Ocean City Inlet. Suddenly safe, navigable access connected the back bays to the Atlantic.
Fishermen took full advantage in ensuing years, and one day in 1939, 171 white marlin were boated out of Ocean City. The label of “white marlin capital of the world” followed shortly after.
Maryland’s main beach-resort community (population just under 7,000) is a nine-mile strip — between Isle of Wight and Assawoman bays and the Atlantic Ocean — that runs from the inlet at the south end north to the Delaware state line.
With so much water, inshore and offshore, the level of interest and effort here in fishing shouldn’t surprise. For one thing, Ocean City is a great jumping-off place to head out to the productive canyons and fish for offshore pelagics such as white marlin, blue marlin, swordfish and tunas — yellowfin, bigeye, bluefin and at times, albacore — as well as wahoo and mahi.
But simply running out to the canyons and the continental shelf (figure 60 miles to start but at times well past 100) isn’t a guarantee of fast fishing, says Josh Lowery, a captain on the 58 B&B Reel Current. He says the warm-water eddies that spin off — or at times don’t — from the Gulf Stream are critical magnets for bluewater big game. Lowery acknowledges that the 2023 season was a bit lackluster, noting that the ocean off Ocean City didn’t get many good pushes of eddies. But there’s no reason to believe that 2024 won’t be a standout year for eddies again concentrating bait and fish in these waters.
Despite the enduring passion among local-based private yachts and charters for billfish, in recent years, tuna have often taken center stage, Lowery says. Bluefin tuna can be thick at times, though as the season progresses, quotas may limit the fishery. Yellowfin and bigeye frequent the canyons from some time in May into October, Lowery says. Some years, longfin tuna (true albacore) might turn up in the mix, and, closer to shore, expect blackfin tuna.
Though far fewer anglers target swordfish than they do tuna, the action for broadbill can be good from June through early fall, but some years even into December. Most who do seek swords drop deep by day, but Lowery says nighttime drifting can be quite effective.
But Ocean City offers more than bluewater. Less glamorous but much more accessible and easy — and many would argue, no less fun — is the inshore fishing, from just off the beaches to the jetties to the acres of protected back bays. The list of species that inshore anglers catch here is considerable and includes flounder, rockfish (striped bass), tautog, sea bass, red drum, black drum, weakfish, speckled trout, croaker and sheepshead. At times snapper bluefish and Spanish mackerel can be numerous — 2023 proved a better-than-average year, Lowery says.
While things definitely slow down in the cold-weather months and pick up in the spring for most of these species, tautog and rockfish can be found through the winter. Larger stripers can be found in late spring, when they migrate out of the Chesapeake and head north, then again in the reverse pattern during the fall.
Tournaments figure large in the fishing picture here. Among the long-running events: the OCMC Labor Day White Marlin Tournament (66th annual coming up in 2024), OCMC Small Boat Tournament (45th annual coming up), Ocean City Marlin Club Canyon Kick-Off (42nd annual coming up), Ocean City Tuna Tournament (37th annual coming up July 12-14), and the White Marlin Open (51st annual coming up August 5-9). At the Open — one of the world’s largest tourneys — 400 boats participated in 2023 with 605 billfish caught and an impressive 602 of those released. Highest single-boat winning total topped $6 million.
Planning a Trip
What to Expect
Anglers will find plenty of infrastructure to serve them. Private boaters are facilitated by full-service marinas, such as the Ocean City Fishing Center and Sunset Marina, where they can launch, moor, and buy bait and supplies. Offshore charters abound and many center consoles offer guided fishing inshore and nearshore. Also popular here are headboats (party boats) that take open groups on large boats to queue up along the rail and drift for flounder, sea bass and pretty much anything the natural baits attract. While largely populated by tourists and casual anglers, these boats do offer a few hours of easy and fun fishing (particularly for families) at an affordable price. Even more affordable and surprisingly productive is fishing the jetties, bridges, piers and surf.
For more general information about Ocean City and planning a visit here, visit ococean.com. Also check visitmaryland.org for more information. All fishing regulations can be found at dnr.maryland.gov.