The Islander fishing team released two blue marlins and two white marlins Saturday to win the 15th annual Keli Wagner Lady Angler (KWLA) tournament in record fashion.
Islander lady anglers Abby Hooper, LeAnne Barry and Holly Wyche combined to top a field of 70 boats that hooked and released 15 blue marlins, 12 white marlins and 3 sailfish in the Gulf Stream waters offshore from Morehead City. The Islander team, captained by Bobby Schlegel, Rocky Mount, scored 1,050 points for its four releases, the highest release total in KWLA history.
The event featured a $42,925 purse and raised $18,250 for the Raab Cancer Center in Morehead City. Hooper, who caught a white marlin and a blue marlin, Barry, who caught a blue marlin, and Wyche, who caught a white marlin, edged the Chainlink fishing team for the $7,437.50 billfish release prize.
Chainlink lady anglers released two blue marlins and one white marlin, good for 925 points.
Benchmark lady anglers came in third with the release of two blue marlins, worth 800 points. Benchmark lady anglers bumped Double B out of the third spot when they tallied their second blue marlin release 24 minutes before the end of fishing.
“They had a great day offshore,” said Big Rock board member Randy Ramsey, who handled the radios for the KWLA event. “This would have been a big day for any billfish tournament. You could tell it was going to be good from the start.”
Islander had the first hookup of the 15th KWLA and released a white marlin just 14 minutes after lines went in the water. The Islander lady anglers then released a blue marlin at 10:13 a.m. and a second blue marlin 21 minutes later.
Billfish action like this has not been the norm for previous KWLA events. No billfish were released in 1998 or 2002 and only two releases were recorded in 2003. Last year, Fin Hunter won the competition with an early hookup and release of a sailfish.
The luckiest catch of the day happened aboard Galot III where Morehead City angler Emma Brooks reeled in a 31.9-pound dolphin. That fish was big enough to win the dolphin division prize of $2,479.17 and the winner-take-all dolphin prize of $22,950.
Dancin’ Outlaw angler Katie Wood of Harkers Island reeled in a 34.6-pound wahoo to help her team win the $2,479.17 largest wahoo prize. Since no tuna were boated for the second straight year, the tuna purse will once again roll and carry $7,579.17 forward to next year’s KWLA tuna division purse.
In addition to the record number of billfish hookups during the 15th KWLA, there were a record number of blue marlin battles that lasted more than an hour.
“Chainlink, Bill Collector and Accordingly all had fights that went more than 60 minutes,” Ramsey confirmed. “This was a great day for the ladies.”
While the lady anglers competed offshore, Big Rock tournament director Crystal Hesmer and her volunteer staff continued to collect registrations for the 54th Big Rock. By the completion of the KWLA, 89 boats had registered and more were expected to register at the Big Rock Captain’s Party. Last year, the Big Rock purse reached $1,464,925.
Competitors in the 54th Big Rock are allowed to fish four-of-six fishing days and must notify officials of the days they do not intend to fish. The competition kicks off Monday morning at 9 a.m. after a blessing of the fleet and the official announcement that lines are allowed in the water.