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Top anglers ready for Big Rock finale

Release grabbed the lead in the billfish release division Friday, the only major shake-up to the leaderboard as the 53rd Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament heads into its final day.

Rom Whitaker, Hatteras, who captains the Release, followed up five white marlin releases Thursday with a blue marlin and a white marlin release Friday to increase his release point total to 1,150. That tops the 1,050 points earned earlier in the week by Jesus Freak, captained by David Walker of Mechanicsville, Va. Walker’s crew released two blue marlins and two white marlins.

Release’s accomplishment was remarkable considering the offshore conditions that greeted anglers Friday morning. Five-foot seas made the run out to the fishing grounds difficult. Half of the 64 boats still eligible to fish elected to stay in port. A shift in weather conditions brought heavier seas and may have impacted the bite. Anglers managed just seven billfish releases all day.

For the second consecutive day, nobody was able to scare up a blue marlin large enough to bring to the scales. This left the standings as it was Wednesday.

Double B captain Kenny Sexton, Manteo, has held the tournament lead since Monday when angler Travis Stephenson of Angier reeled in a 652.8-pound blue marlin. Blue Water, captained by Gray Hall, Morehead City, was the inaugural tournament leader with a 580.6-pound blue marlin landed by Jeffrey Gregg of Boca Raton, Fla.

Blue Water was knocked to second place by Double B, but not before it captured the Fabulous Fisherman’s prize of $284,750 for being the first blue marlin to weigh more than 500 pounds. Sushi, a boat captained by Tim Day, Wilmington, continues to hold third place with a 467.4-pound blue marlin caught Wednesday by Kevin Travis of Clearwater, Fla.

All three blue marlin leaders – Double B, Blue Water and Sushi – have fished their allotment of four days. Only 32 boats can head offshore Saturday, but this total includes two former Big Rock champions (Sea Striker and Sea Creature) and two other boats (Gambler and Hunter) that have held the Big Rock leads.

Sea Striker actually won two Big Rocks (37th and 43rd) and is looking to become the first boat to score three Big Rock victories. Sea Striker captain Adrian Holler, Newport, has had excellent tournament success in the kind of conditions expected Saturday. In addition to his two wins, he held an early lead in the 39th Big Rock.

Sea Creature, captained by Steve Coulter of Hatteras, won the 51st Big Rock with a Saturday catch and had the final hook-up of the 41st Big Rock. Coulter also captained the Outlaw to victory in the 34th Big Rock.

Gambler, captained by Steve Garrett, led the 42nd Big Rock until Summertime Blue arrived at the scales with an 883-pounder, which is still the Big Rock record. Hunter, captained by Walt Spruill, Manteo, has led two different Big Rocks only to get bumped off the leaderboard by bigger catches. Perhaps it will be Spruill’s turn to do the bumping Saturday.

Galot III, captained by Guy “Porky” Herring of Knoxville, Tenn., dropped to third place in the release standings after Release scored two releases Friday. The Galot III, which released two blue marlins and two white marlins for 1,050 points, is fished out.

The crew of Reel Love earned a special bonus Wednesday when it recorded the 53rd release of the 53rd Big Rock. Reel Love, captained by Jeff Vreugdenhil, Clinton, will receive $5,300 for this special release at the Big Rock awards ceremony Saturday night.

Leadership in the dolphin division remained unchanged. Peggy, captained by Mike Guthrie of Beaufort, took over the dolphin lead Wednesday with a catch that weighed 41.1 pounds. Chainlink, captained by Ralph Griffin, Morehead City, holds the runner-up spot with a dolphin that weighed 38.9 pounds.

Franchise Sails, captained by Brian Efland of Cedar Point, continues to lead the wahoo division with a 53.7-pounder caught Monday. Jabez, captained by Ben Polk, Mt. Pleasant, S.C., took over second place Thursday with a catch that tipped the scales at 38.6 pounds.

No tunas have been caught during the 53rd Big Rock.

No Problem, captained by Scott “Goatie” Lawrence of Murrell’s Inlet, SC, captured the top daily prizes in the dolphin and wahoo divisions Friday. No Problem angler Bob Farris, who reeled in the 26.3 pound dolphin, has much larger catches on his resume. In 2009, Farris, who live in Charlotte, set the Maryland state record when he reeled in a 1,062-pound blue marlin.

The 53rd Big Rock celebrates its final day Saturday at 8 a.m. after a blessing of the fleet and the announcement that lines are allowed in the water. Fishing is over at 2 p.m. unless a boat is hooked up and fighting a fish. In that case, Big Rock goes into overtime. Fights continue until a resolution (released, boated or escaped) takes place.

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