(Aug. 16, 2019) Following a week filled with excessive numbers of massive boats competing in the White Marlin Open, two area fishermen hooked the namesake catch after heading more than 75 miles offshore in a 24-foot vessel on Saturday.
Just about to head inland after coming up blank after trolling the Baltimore Canyon on Saturday afternoon, Lee Ralston and Joe Harper caught a 50.5-pound 85-inch white marlin.
After a roughly 25-minute battle to pull the marlin onboard the modestly-sized boat, Ralston said the pair were slightly stunned after taking a gander at the catch.
“We’re like, ‘did we two idiots, that don’t know what they’re doing in some little boat, just bring this fish in?” he said.
Ralston and Harper had ventured out to sea that morning in his 2400 Offshore Series Sea Chaser by Carolina Skiff, powered by a single 300 HP Yamaha outboard motor.
Ralston admitted being cautioned prior to the voyage.
“Everybody I talked to said, ‘You’re crazy man, you don’t have any backup if that thing goes,’” he said.
While not initially planning to head quite that far offshore, Ralston said he had taken the Carolina Skiff offshore fishing two times last year with his wife but estimated that he’d gone no further than 35 miles out.
“Luckily, we got two really good days last year because in a 24-foot boat you’ve got to definitely pick and choose your days you go that far out,” he said.
Ralston admitted to unexpectedly pushing the envelope this time.
“I’ve never taken the boat that far,” he said. “I was hoping we had enough gas [because] it’s a 100-gallon tank.”
Keeping a close eye on fuel consumption, Ralston was surprised to discover three quarters of a tank remaining as he approached the canyon.
“It was pretty bumpy and pretty rough on the way out but still a ton of fun,” he said. “Finally we started to get into 300-400 feet of water and saw the Baltimore Canyon approaching and we noticed that we had only burnt about 20-25 gallons of gas at that point, so I knew we’d have more than enough for the way back.”
Pushing beyond previous distances, Ralston said his first time navigating to the canyon was eye opening.
“You’re going for like 60 miles and you’re in 100-200 feet of water pretty consistently, and all of a sudden right at the end within a half of a mile distance, it goes from 300 feet [and] just drops off,” he said. “You can literally count by the second the feet that it drops off [going] from 300 feet to over 1,000 feet.”
Before dropping their rigs, Ralston urged Harper to join him for a quick dip in the deep ocean waters.
“I said, ‘you’re used to swimming in the mucky Ocean City water where you can’t see,” he said. “Once you get offshore you can open your eyes up under water and … you can see all around you. It’s Caribbean blue water.”
After beginning to drag their baits through the water, Ralston spied a nearby work boat and employed a feeder-fish approach.
“I’m not going to claim, by any stretch, that I’m a pro at this so [when] we saw a fishing trawler out there … we started following it, figuring that they knew the waters better,” he said.
Coming up empty after over an hour, Ralston was about to throw in the towel.
“We were kind of getting to the point where we had to start heading back because I told my mom and wife we’d be checking in [by 8 p.m.] and it was about a three-hour drive out,” he said.
Right as the men were preparing to head towards shore, the fish was in the baits.
We said, ‘Alright, we’ve got another 20 minutes left before we have to reel it in,’” he said. “It couldn’t have been better timing.
“That line on the port side just went off. I mean buzzing,” he said.
For the next 20-25 minutes, “We were reeling in some, then the line would just take back off and you’d be fighting it,” he said. “We were ecstatic that we had hooked … something as substantial.
“It was the coolest thing to see the marlin jump out of the water and … shaking trying to spit the hook,” he said.
Finally able to haul onboard and gaff the billfish, the men photographed the catch and assessed the scene.
“It looked like a war zone … after we had gaffed it,” he said. “Our boat’s not big enough for a fish that size.”
The late-afternoon turn of fortune led to one more stunning sight.
“As night started to fall and we turned on our blue LED lights on the boat and we saw the coastline of Ocean City from the distance all lit up … and it’s a full moon,” he said. “It couldn’t have been a more picturesque ride back in to top the day off.”
Ralston, who is also an avid skydiver, compared Sunday’s adventure at sea to the rush experienced while descending from the heavens, while noting that his catch of the day would motivate him to try it again at some point.
“The adrenal rush, when the reel goes off, I compare it to skydiving,” he said. “I’ve been skydiving four times and it’s a very similar … rush, just a lot safer.”