The second half of the 54th annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament kicked off Thursday with a harsh weather forecast and competitors found it even rougher than expected when they reached the Gulf Stream 60 miles offshore.
Anglers on 72 boats managed just four billfish releases (three white marlins and a blue marlin) as a Nor’easter churned up 7-to-10 foot seas in Big Rock’s fishing grounds. The gusty winds made trolling difficult and simultaneously knocked down a super billfish bite that had been hot since before the competition began.
For the second straight day, no blue marlins were boated and the overall blue marlin standings stayed the same. With two days of fishing remaining, Flybuoy, captained by Robert Hollingsworth of Charleston, S.C., maintained its lead with a 499.3-pound blue marlin caught Monday by Todd Baxley. Inspiration, captained by Casey Wagner of Morehead City continues to hold down second place with a 437.7-pound blue marlin caught Tuesday by Beaufort angler Terry Clark.
If no other blue marlins are weighed in, Flybuoy and Inspiration would split eligible prize money in 60/40 fashion. That means Flybuoy’s winning purse would be $496,710 and the Inspiration fishing team would receive $212,640.
It also means the $246,500 Level VI Fabulous Fisherman’s prize for a minimum 500-pound blue marlin would go unclaimed and 100% of this level’s entry fees would be returned to each boat that entered this level.
By the end of Thursday fishing hours, 54-of-120 boats in the field were “fished out” having fished their allowable four days. Eleven boats have the option to fish both remaining days and 55 boats can fish either Friday or Saturday.
Most fishing teams are expected to stay in port Friday and take their chances Saturday. Right now, a 500-pound blue marlin could be worth $690,550 if a boat catching that blue marlin was entered in all levels.
Morehead City charter boat Dancin’ Outlaw, captained by Thomas Wood fished Thursday but did not improve its position in the billfish release division. Dancin’ Outlaw anglers caught and released three blue marlins, including two Wednesday, and lead this part of the competition with 1,200 points. If Dancin’ Outlaw can hold on and win, it would receive prize money in excess of $53,969.
Double 07, captained by Freddie Brittington, Beaufort, moved into second place in the release division with a blue marlin release Thursday. Double 07 now has three blue marlin releases for a total of 1,200 points, but it scored its points after Dancin’ Outlaw. Double 07 – like Dancin’ Outlaw -- is fished out.
Compromise, captained by Larry Branham dropped to third place in the release division with two blue marlin releases and a white marlin release. Compromise has tallied 925 points and still has one day to fish. Anglers on the Compromise would need to catch and release a blue marlin (or three white marlin and/or sailfish) to take over the release division lead.
Release, captained by Rom Whitaker out of Hatteras is on the outside looking in. Release caught and released four white marlins and a blue marlin for 900 points during the first three days of the tournament and has one more day of fishing available.
While Flybuoy’s blue marlin is smaller than 20 of the past 22 Big Rock winners, it’s in better position to win than one might think. Flybuoy’s catch would have won all but one of the Big Rock’s held during the 60’s. Flybuoy’s blue marlin is much larger than the winning catches in ’95 and ’09 – years when stormy offshore weather impacted the billfish catch.
But it’s also true that the Big Rock is known for late tournament drama. Seven of the previous 18 tournaments had winning blue marlins caught during the final two days of action. In Big Rock parlance, it’s never over until final hookups reach a resolution.
Sea Hag, captained by Alan Willis out of Jamestown, N.C., captured daily $2,000 prize for scoring the first release. The Sea Hag crew caught and released a white marlin in the first four minutes of Thursday fishing.
Thursday fishing produced no changes to the overall standings in the three gamefish divisions. That means Can Do Too continues to hold the dolphin division lead with a 41.3-pound catch hauled in by Sid Gold of Stewart, Fla.
Bankwalker is second in the dolphin division with a 31.7-pounder reeled in by Braxton Montague of Raleigh. Bankwalker leads the $77,350 Dolphin Winner Take All portion of the competition because Can Do Too did not elect to enter this level of the tournament.
Sensation continues to be the solo leader in the tuna division with the 56.8-pound yellowfin tuna reeled in Tuesday by Walt Hooks of Wilson. Sensation would receive prize money totaling $24,791.68 if no other tuna are caught.
Impulse continues to hold the lead in the wahoo division with a 53.1-pounder landed Monday by Cary angler John Elmo. The Miss Peggy Sue holds down second place with an 36.3-pound wahoo that was reeled in Monday by David Heeter of Spencer, W.Va.
The Big Rock continues Friday at 9 a.m. Each boat is allowed to fish 4-of-6 days during the competition.