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OCEAN CITY, Md. – Before 1933 anglers along this Atlantic Ocean barrier island had a problem. In order to get their boats to sea, they had to cross the beach, using rollers, horses, ropes and pulleys.
The opportunity to turn this into a fishing town were so great and so obvious that $500,000 was offered by the state, but legislation for federal funds failed to get Congressional approval.
Mother Nature fixed that problem with the Chesapeake-Potomac Hurricane in August 1933. This slow-moving storm system dropped 10 inches of rain per day for almost a week. When all the water drained back into the Atlantic, a four-foot deep, 250-foot wide channel formed linking the abundant backwaters of the Maryland coast, where marinas could be built, to the ocean.
Federal funds flowed soon afterward to stabilize what is now called the Ocean City Inlet.
“It made Ocean City, as far as fishing is concerned, that’s for sure,” Jim Motsko said.
Motsko would know. The White Marlin Open, which he founded in 1974, is called the largest billfish tournament in the world. That’s appropriate for a city that calls itself “The White Marlin Capital of the World.”
But Ocean City’s reputation as a beach resort often obscures its world class fishing. That’s only natural in a small town where every summer day looks like an invasion of visitors seen in college towns during football season. This place gets packed.
Estimates put the population of this resort at over 300,000 people during the busiest summer weeks. And the August week of the White Marlin Open is one of those. Ocean City’s resident population is 7,042.
Motsko has seen Ocean City when it was much smaller.
“I stayed here for the first time year round in 1970,” Motsko, 64, said. “There was nothing to do here in the winter. I came from the Baltimore area, where you could do a whole lot of things.
“This place at that time was a ghost town. There were only three or four places that you could eat or drink during the offseason. That was really tough.
“Now there are a lot of places open year around. Ocean City has been heavily developed.”
Ocean City’s Boardwalk and beach is the premier attraction. The Boardwalk dates back to 1902 when it was made of wooden planks that were rolled up and stored on hotel porches. Now the permanent structure stretches 2.5 miles long. With a beach view on one side, the Boardwalk features a vast collection of shops and eateries.
Ocean City is a family vacation spot, and any short stroll along the Boardwalk reveals why. Families of all sizes are scattered along the walkway and beach during the day, roaming back and forth from the ocean and the sand to the snow cone, ice cream and candy shops on the Boardwalk. Even the air is alive with activity from parasailing to flying kites.
At night, the Boardwalk is a packed with people from end to end. If you don’t want to shop or ride Thumper’s Carousel, which has been in operation since 1912, you can be entertained by a wide variety of street musicians and artists.
It’s easy to see why fishing might get obscured here. Offshore fishing, in particular, provides a peace and calm that contrasts with the all the activity along the beaches and inland waterways.
That’s what attracts Shane Moore. He lives about 2 ½ hours away, in Jarrettsville, Md. After chartering various boats for several years and often competing in the White Marlin Open, Moore bought a 60-foot boat that operates as a charter when he isn’t using it. The boat, “Moore Bills,” is his oasis.
“All the stress with work and running a business goes away when I step on that boat,” said Moore, 48, who owns a vending company. “It doesn’t come back for 10 or 12 hours, when I step back on that dock and I’ve got 10 phone messages.”
Moore finished third in the WMO’s blue marlin division in 2005 with a 536-pounder. He is the father of four children ranging in age from 19 to 10. His wife, Stephanie, has made this sport a total family affair, placing in the top three of the first two saltwater tournaments she entered.
The rebound of offshore fishing and white marlin in particular around Ocean City has been well-documented. Long-line commercial fishing boats had the fishery in freefall until conservation measures were put in place. In 2003, only 317 white marlin were caught from Ocean City marina boats. In 2010 that number had jumped to 2,848, the largest number since record-keeping began in 1936.
Moore and his family have been among the beneficiaries of that rebound.
“One of my fondest memories on this boat was catching 25 white marlin one day with my son, Austin, who was 14 at the time,” Moore said.
It’s stories like that which substantiate Ocean City’s motto of “White Marlin Capital of the World.”