The spring mackerel run is one of the most capricious of fishing phenomena. Either it's there or it isn't and the only way to find out is to go.

Me? I'm a jinx. If I'm on the boat, wait until tomorrow.

The mackerel run is under way now, and the headboats of Ocean City go to sea whenever people show up to pay for the fuel. Just about any day the weather cooperates one of the five boats will make a stab.

Sometimes it's awesome. Sometimes it's awful.

Thursday (my day) it was awful. Three boats made the long journey and after a full day at sea about 60 mackerel had been boated.

But two days earlier the fishermen came back to the docks with bushel baskets full of mackerel.

Generally, the mackerel run lasts about three weeks off Ocean City before the migrating fish move north. Then they are in range of the boats that depart from Lewes, Del., for a few more weeks. The first mackerel blitzes off Ocean came last weekend.

Which means now is the time to go. But it's always risky.

Fishermen who have hit the run on the nose one day never are likely to forget it. Jerry Chesnut of Crofton, Md., was out on our slow Thursday and he recounted his tale of great success a few years earlier.

"We left the dock about 11:30. There were seven of us aboard. It was an awful day -- wind blowing, high seas.

"We stayed right close to shore. My wife would run out from the cabin every time the boat stopped. The seas were pouring in over the bow. We just stood there and hauled them up. In a little over three hours we had something like 400 mackerel in the boat between the seven of us."

The numbers mount in a hurry because the standard rig for fishing these beasts is a "mackerel tree." It has a diamond jig on the bottom and a string of surgical tube eel lures above it, four or five hooks in all.

When you hit a school, it's not unusual to get a fish on every hook.

When you hit a school.

The Ocean City head boats charge $18 per person. They go out daily at 7 a.m.