MOREHEAD CITY — The 53rd Big Blue Marlin Tournament opened to a full gamut of emotions Monday as competitors experience a full range of highs and lows during the first six hours of fishing.
It was a day unlike any other in Big Rock history.
Blue Water, captained by Gray Hall, Morehead City, and Double B, captained by Kenny Sexton, Manteo, experienced the highest of highs as they showed up at the scales with blue marlin catches that took over the top spots on the Big Rock leader board. Blue Water angler Jeffrey Gregg of Boca Raton, FL, reeled in a 580.6-pound blue marlin in 63 minutes to help his Morehead City-based charter boat win the Fabulous Fishermen prize of $284,750 for recording the first catch over 500 pounds. Double B angler Travis Stephenson, Angier, landed a 652.8-pound blue marlin to put his team in first place overall.
The anglers were blue marlin rookies who performed like pros even though there was a $1,464,925 purse at stake.
While the Blue Water and Double B crews experienced nothing but ecstasy another team experienced joy and agony. The Billfisher, a boat based out of Ocean City, MD, managed to catch two dolphins (25.7 and 25.6-pounds) that were the largest landed all day to sweep the daily prizes in that gamefish division. But one member of that fishing team suffered a stroke while fishing and the Coast Guard had to be called in to perform a medical evacuation. The condition of the evacuated team member is unknown.
While the rescue at sea was taking place, more bad news was happening on shore. Trophy, based out of Wilmington, showed up at the scales with a catch that had damage consistent with propeller contact. That fish was disqualified, however Trophy will not be penalized.
The day started and ended sunny with a downpour in the middle. Minutes after weight of the Blue Water catch was announced, drops began to fall … and not just from the sky. There were serious tears of joy in Captain Gray’s eyes.
“I had them … I was so happy,” Gray said when asked to comment on the $284,750 that he had just won. “We were fishing north of the crowd, all by ourselves except for one other boat. We circled back around and we saw the fish. It ate a plug on our left long rigger … the same plug we caught a (blue marlin) on last year. It was a lucky plug, I guess, but it was a good crew and good teamwork. It’s a nice boat … and a wonderful payday.”
Gray’s big catch lasted less than two hours atop the Big Rock leader board. At 4:12 p.m., the Double B’s catch was lifted on the scales. When Big Rock weighmaster Randy Gregory announced “652 point 8” to the gathering, it kicked off a frantic celebration that lasted more than a minute.
“I had a great crew and we got her done,” said Double B captain Kenny Sexton. “We were fishing on the other side of the Gulf Stream about 97 miles out there. I’ve fished the Big Rock many times but I never boated a blue marlin big enough to win any money. This is very special … but there’s a long week to go still.”
Sexton and crew are currently in position to win $524,375 while the Blue Water is in position to add another $191,050 to its winnings if it holds onto second place.
Several other teams grabbed a share of the 53rd Big Rock purse. Franchise Sails landed the largest wahoo of the day, tipping the scales at 53.7 pounds. Sea Hag came in second in the wahoo division with a 21-pounder.
Competitors in the 53rd Big Rock are allowed to fish four of the six fishing days and must notify officials of the days they do not intend to fish. The competition continues Tuesday at 9 a.m. after a blessing of the fleet and the official announcement that lines are allowed in the water.