A good day offshore

The sharksucker remora is known to hang out with the largest types of sharks and will even stay with a bull shark after he enters fresh water. BY ERIC BURNLEY
September 17, 2011

As you may remember, last September saw a spectacular run of white marlin off the coast from Delaware to North Carolina. Several boats released as many as 50 whites in one day, and overnight trips produced even more. It was the best bite in anyone’s memory.

Frank Goodhart is a longtime friend and fishing buddy who was a part of our little boat offshore fleet back in the early 1970s. Unlike some other members of that group, Frank remained dedicated to offshore fishing and currently owns a 33-foot Albemarle, the Brenda Lou, berthed at Sunset Marina in Ocean City, Md. We usually get together for at least one trip per year and Monday was the day.

We left the dock at 5 a.m. and headed 60 miles offshore to the Washington Canyon. Frank shut down just inside the edge where a huge weed line showed considerable promise. In fact, before the crew could get a line in the water I saw a white marlin free jumping about 300 yards from the boat. While it is rare to catch a marlin after observing it jumping, seeing one is a good sign of things to come.

Sure enough, it wasn’t long before the first white visited our spread, but he or she was just shopping. We saw others lounging on the surface and a few more cutting through the spread without taking a bait. This type of activity keeps the crew on its toes.

Around 10 a.m. a white inhaled one of our naked ballyhoo and headed for parts unknown. Bill Burton (no relation to the Bill Burton late of this Earth and the Baltimore Sun) had the rod and maintained pressure on the fish while Dave Conner and Steve Pilipauskis cleared the lines. This task is complicated by the two dredges Frank pulls. One is an artificial rig with Mylar ribbons that carry images of bait fish, and the other is a ballyhoo rig with 30 fish actually attached to it.

Once the lines were clear, Frank began to back down on the fish that by this time was quite a ways from the stern. Bill was cranking, Frank was backing and the fish was putting a lot of pressure on the line. Some marlin jump a lot, some not so much. This one was a not so much. When marlin don’t jump, they dive and use all their energy to fight the angler. Bill was showing signs of wear.

Finally Bill had the leader to the rod tip and Steve was able to control the fish. At this point Steve popped the leader and the fish was released.

Our next encounter came around lunchtime and this marlin more than made up for his predecessor’s lack of aeronautic skill. From the moment it was hooked, the fish was in the air doing everything it knew how to shake that pesky hook. It went up, down, sideways and every way you can think of. This is what makes marlin fishing so much fun.

Once again Bill was on the rod. He tried to pass it to me, but this was not my first rodeo, and cranking on a marlin is something I would rather watch than do. The fish continued to jump all over the place at the boat, but Steve, with a little help from Frank, was able to perform a safe release.

With lines, teasers and dredges back in the water, we broke out sandwiches and cold drinks to enjoy a little lunch. Unfortunately, no fish interrupted our repast.

We did have an interesting visitor. A mystery fish hit the left short rigger and all hands were guessing its species until we had it in the boat. And then we still weren’t sure. At first it looked like a small cobia until we saw the sucking disc on the top of its head. No doubt it was a remora, but all hands agreed it was the biggest one any of us had ever seen and the first we had ever heard of caught on hook and line. A little checking in my reference material and I found out it was a sharksucker remora. These fish are known to hang out with the largest types of sharks and will even stay with a bull shark after he enters fresh water.

The next action came from a small school of dolphin. As dolphin are wont to do, they attacked every bait in the spread and we were able to put three in the box.

Back at the dock we saw eight to 10 release flags on some of the larger boats that had been fishing with us. We were happy to display our two flags, and I must say the crew performed flawlessly and were a joy to be with.

  • Eric Burnley is a Delaware native who has fished and hunted the state from an early age.  Since 1978 he has written countless articles about hunting and fishing in Delaware and elsewhere along the Atlantic Coast.  He has been the regional editor for Salt Water Sportsman, Field and Stream, Outdoor Life and the Fisherman Magazine.  He was the founding editor of the Mid-Atlantic Fisherman magazine.  Eric is the author of three books; Surf Fishing the Atlantic Coast, The Ultimate Guide to Striped Bass Fishing and Fishing Saltwater Baits.  He and his wife Barbara live near Milton, Delaware. Eric can be reached at