OCEAN CITY – The 28th Annual Ocean City Shark Tournament got underway yesterday with the first of four official fishing days, and with the action off the coast suddenly heating up, it could be one to remember.
Hundreds of offshore anglers chugged out to the canyons off the coast of the resort yesterday in search of sharks of all species and sizes. The start to the offshore season has been fairly lukewarm, but the fishing should be good as usual 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 participated in the inaugural event, the Ocean City Shark Tournament has grown to become one of the premiere shark tournaments on the east coast. Last year, a record 84 boats participated with over $150,000 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. For example, over 80 sharks caught last year during the tournament were released while just 22 were brought to the scales. Once the leaderboard is established and the bar is set, the number of sharks brought in starts to go down.
Last year, angler Jeff Phipps fishing aboard the “Hammer” took the top prize in the Mako Division with a 188-pounder worth over $25,000. In the Open Division, angler Tim Brinker on the “Carol’s Teakettle” took first place in terms of weight with a 435-pound thresher, but it was the “Restless Lady” taking to top money prize with a 341-pound thresher worth over $21,000 because of added entry levels.
The annual event got underway Wednesday with a captain’s meeting and registration, but the action offshore started Thursday with the first of four fishing days. Captains and boats must choose to fish three of the four fishing days, Thursday to Sunday. Last year, Thursday was washed out by stormy seas and high winds, essentially turning the 2007 edition into a three-day tournament.
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.