OCEAN CITY – The 29th Annual Ocean City Shark Tournament got underway yesterday with the first of four official fishing days, and organizers are hoping there will be no shortage of action at the docks.
Hundreds of offshore anglers chugged out to the canyons off the coast this morning in search of sharks of all species and sizes. The start to the offshore season has been a little tepid thus far, but the fishing should be solid for the annual Ocean City Shark Tournament, which is always one of the highlights of the offshore tournament season in the resort.
From modest beginnings back in 1981 when just 11 boats and 33 anglers competed in the inaugural event, the tournament has grown over the years to become one of the premiere shark tournaments on the east coast. Last year, 61 boats competed in the tournament with nearly $126,000 in prize money doled out to the winners in several categories.
Most of the sharks caught during the tournament are safely returned to the sea with just a small percentage actually weighed at the scales at the host Ocean City Fishing Center in West Ocean City. Last year for example, just 14 sharks were weighed during the tournament while 134 others were released.
Of the 14 sharks weighed at the scales, eight were makos. There were also four blue sharks weighed at the scales as well as one hammerhead and one thresher. The sharks that were brought into the scales resulted in thousands of dollars in prize money for several boats and anglers participating. First place in the Mako Division went to angler Tony Gay fishing aboard the “Gag Order,” who landed a 244-pounder worth $7,950. As it often happens in fishing tournaments, however, the first-place fish in terms of weight is not always first in terms of prize money because of added entry levels.
For example, angler Jeff Schulte fishing aboard the “It’ll Do II” caught the second-place mako at 209 pounds but was awarded the most prize money in the division at $16,485. Third place in the mako division went to angler Cory Carrell aboard the “Seaduction” with a 136-pounder worth $12,079.
The Open Division followed a different pattern with the top shark in terms of weight earning the most prize money. Angler Nathanial Leader fishing aboard the “Keep Er Wet” landed a 273-pound hammerhead for the top spot in the division and a check for $19,965. Angler Bud Fogg fishing aboard the “Contagious” hauled in a 268-pound thresher for second place in the open division and a check for $3,984. Local angler Larry Trala of Berlin took third place in the open division with a 237-pound blue shark caught aboard the “Chasin’ Tails” worth $10,352 with added entry levels.
The Ocean City Fishing Center just across the Route 50 Bridge in West Ocean City is the host of the annual shark tournament and the marina will be turned into headquarters for the event with weigh-ins each day from 3:30-7:00 p.m. Crowds of fishing enthusiasts and curiosity seekers will cram into the marina each day for the chance to see a big shark weighed at the scales, and the entire facility is turned a celebration of fishing, food, music and fun with activities for children included.
While the primary goal of the tournament is to bring the largest shark in several categories into the scales for a just at the thousands of dollars in prize money at stake, no less important is the conservation of the fish.
Many of the sharks caught during the annual event are tagged and released so their movements can be studied and a greater understanding of the magnificent creatures can be ascertained. Marine biologists often set up shop at the marina during the event to take samples and further study the small percentage of sharks that actually make it to the scales.