The Penn International’s drag was screaming, the angler’s rod doubled over. His friends were teasing and poking fun about him being out of shape, after 20 minutes into the battle. At the end of the line was another 80- to 100-pound bluefin tuna, and it wasn’t coming in easy. For the past week, this edge had provided limits of bluefin for every charter we had taken out. This morning started just like the previous days, and it appeared the boat would fly another limit of tuna flags — assuming this angler could muster through the pain and get this bluefin within range of a gaff shot. He did, and eventually all four anglers aboard got their fish (the allotment was four bluefin per boat that year). The best thing about this bite? It was less than an hour run from the Ocean City, MD inlet. We had been set up chunking on the south side of the Jackspot lump, where the edge drops from 50 to 110 feet Seven boats from the Ocean City Fishing Center charter fleet were anchored up that day, all side by side, all catching bluefin.
The Jackspot was my first “offshore” adventure back in 1974. No GPS, just a compass and fingers crossed that after running 20 mph for an hour on a course of 141 degrees, a large Red Buoy would come into sight. The charter captain said to fish the west side of the buoy and my depth finder would show 48 feet on top of the lump. My face must have had a look of concern, as he smiled and said in a reassuring voice, “You can’t miss it, there will be a lot of boats there.” And he was correct. Fifty minutes into the run, a dozen boats were counted on the horizon... whew! That first trip to the Jackspot — which resulted in two bluefin and four mahi in the fish box — is embedded into my memory.
The Ocean City Marlin Club records show 175 white marlin caught in 1936. Word spread quickly and 1259 were caught in 1939, I would suspect most at the Jackspot. Fast forward a few decades and the numbers were 1735 in 1968, 2507 in 1969, 2098 in 1970, and 2206 in 1971. By then the charter fleet was pushing further east fishing out of the White Marlin Capital of the World. But White Marlin were still caught at the Jackspot. My first couple years of offshore fishing was almost exclusively at the Jackspot. It was not until I got the wife’s permission to purchase a GPS unit that venturing further offshore became an option, but even then, the majority of those early years fishing offshore were spent at the Jackspot. That lump provided mako, bluefin and yellowfin tuna, mahi, kingfish, cobia, bonita, false albacore, tons of bluefish, and occasionally a white marlin. About the only species I never caught there is a blue marlin.
Thinking about taking the plunge into offshore fishing? There is no better place to start than the Jackspot. Early in the season typically you can catch bluefish until the arms are weary. Artificials like cedar plugs, Green Machines, and #2 planers with 5.5-inch Drone spoons will get the job done. No sense rigging ballyhoo yet, with all the bluefish. If you’re interested in Mako, filet a bluefish for bait. Drift the east side of the lump or run a few miles to the east which puts you right in prime Mako territory, at the 20-fathom line.
Towards end of June bluefish numbers fall off somewhat, but the species is replaced by king mackerel, mahi, and Atlantic bonito (which are good table fare, unlike the also-present false albacore). These species all like those Drone spoons, along with rigged ballyhoo and smaller artificials. Though tuna have been less numerous here in recent years the bluefin may make an appearance during this time as well, and trolling rigged ballyhoo is a good choice along with a deep planer with a Drone spoon or black/purple Ilander skirted over ballyhoo. I have not heard of a good bluefin chunk bite the last few years at the Jackspot, but that doesn’t mean they won’t show up this season. Chunking that southside drop-off is a good bet for tangling with these beasts, if they’re around.
Once July and August roll around anything is a possibility. Yellowfin tuna typically are not on the Jackspot, but you never know what you will catch in the ocean and they have provided a surprise more than once there, along with white marlin popping up on a teaser. Yes, pull teasers when trolling the Jackspot, they attract all the species into your spread, not just billfish.
Of course, pelagics are not the only game in town at the Jackspot. There is also fantastic bottom fishing for sea bass and tauog, so bring along some squid and bottom rigs in case you need a back-up plan. The Ocean City Reef Foundation has created great bottom structure on the Jackspot using subway cars and other reef building material, and for a donation to the foundation you will receive a booklet with all the GPS coordinate numbers.
Whether you’re a seasoned offshore angler or just starting to dabble in the sport, don’t overlook the Jackspot. It’s a very short run with very big possibilities. Oh... almost forgot — don’t look for the red buoy, the Coast Guard yanked it out years ago!
- By John Unakrt. For additional rigging and trolling techniques, check out John Unkart’s books “Offshore Pursuit” and “Saltwater Tales” available on Amazon.