Bill Collector anglers Linda Rice, Morehead City, and Jill Wilson, Cedar Point, combined to release a blue marlin and a sailfish Saturday to defeat a record field of 81 boats and win the 17 annual Keli Wagner Lady Angler (KWLA) tournament.
Rice reeled in and released her blue marlin at 9:31 a.m., but it was the sailfish that Wilson released 72 minutes later that gave Bill Collector the lead for good and a $8,606 share of the $17,212 purse.
“We’re so excited,” Wilson said. “My sailfish was beautiful … and it was quick. We have a great captain (Stephen Draughon) who backed the boat right to it. It was ‘zoom’ … we had the leader wire and scored our second release.”
Even though Bill Collector scored the win in near-perfect offshore conditions, things started perfectly for Caroline Wagner fishing aboard Inspiration.
Wagner was fishing in a tournament dedicated to her mother, on a boat dedicated to her mom’s courageous battle with cancer. Wagner battled through the emotion of the moment to put her team in first place just 34 minutes into the competition.
“It was very special to be able to fish for my mom and to fish with my family,” Wagner said. “The fight was about only about 10 minutes long and we think the blue marlin weighed just 200 pounds. But it was just awesome to be able to catch it. I was definitely thinking about mom out there.”
Rice was thinking about Wagner’s mom, too. The KWLA – pronounced “koala” – was named after Wagner when she lost her battle with cancer in 2008. The tournament namesake introduced Rice to the competition and set things in motion for this win.
“We worked together and as soon as she talked about the big Rock, I was in,” Rice said. “I was either volunteering or fishing every year.
“To be here … to catch a blue marlin and to win … it is awesome.”
Susie Q angler Mary Rhodes, Newport, won the “Winner Take All” dolphin category to help her team win $31,875 with a 27.3-pound catch. The Susie Q also receives $2,868 for winning dolphin gamefish category.
Bootlegger angler Lisa Lopp, High Point, landed a 50.5-pound wahoo to win $2,868 in that gamefish division. No tuna were brought to the scales to that division prize of $2,868 will roll forward to the 18th annual KWLA.
First year KWLA director Donna Hardy praised the KWLA competitors for making the event an overwhelming success. The lady anglers pushed the competition to new heights and raised $20,250 for charity.
“We had beautiful weather, an exciting competition and a special first billfish catch of the day,” Hardy said, recapping the day's events. “I think this means we’re heading in the right direction. Our ability to give back to the community is making a difference. I think KWLA is going to continue on for a long, long time.”
Proceeds from the one-day billfish event will be donated to KWLA charities. Since 1998, the KWLA has raised $226,065 for charity, including $180,666 to support the Raab Cancer Center at Carteret General Hospital.
Official results will be final after 10 p.m. Saturday – the deadline for all release forms to be turned in to KWLA officials.
The 17th KWLA serves as a kickoff event for the 56th Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament set to start Monday. So far, 94 boats have signed up for this year’s Big Rock, which has raised $3,133,216 for charity since 1988.