The 54th annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament turned into a one-day shootout Friday as rough offshore conditions made it difficult to catch billfish on the second-to-last day of the competition.
While 15 boats indicated their intention to head offshore Friday, officials at Big Rock headquarters could only confirm that three boats actually went offshore. No billfish were hooked or released. Conditions at times were brutal as winds gusted up to 35 knots. At times, the sea state was rougher than Thursday when a Nor’easter initialy churned up 7-to-10 foot seas in Big Rock’s fishing grounds.
Since Friday turned into a blowout, competitors are now wondering what Saturday will bring. The Big Rock field of 120 boats is now reduced to 63 eligible to fish Saturday during the final day of the competition.
As these anglers head offshore in 20 knot winds and 5-to-8 foot seas, it remains unclear whether the billfish bite will return before the 54th Big Rock comes to a close at 2 p.m.
Pelagic, captained by Mike Webb, Atlantic Beach, went offshore Friday and managed to catch the largest dolphin of the day. Pelagic angler Dale Strickland of Spring Hope, reeled in a 19.9-pounder to win the daily dolphin prize.
Two Pelagic crew members said it was as rough as they’d ever seen it offshore, but there were times when the waves weren’t too bad. Both were a bit surprised that they didn’t see any billfish in their lines because “conditions appeared favorable.”
Pelagic crew member Kevin Cowles of Atlantic Beach was asked why he thought billfish had been absent from the feeding structure that he saw. He shook his head for a moment and then said: “I just don’t know.”
Since no blue marlin were boated and no releases were accomplished Friday the tournament’s overall standings stayed the same, Flybuoy, captained by Robert Hollingsworth of Charleston, S.C., continues to hold the Big Rock lead with a 499.3-pound blue marlin caught Monday by Todd Baxley. The runner-up spot is held by Inspiration, captained by Casey Wagner of Morehead City. Wagner and crew hold second place with a 437.7-pounder caught Tuesday by Beaufort angler Terry Clark.
If no other blue marlins are weighed in, Flybuoy (pronounced “fly-boo-wee”) 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.
While Flybuoy’s blue marlin is smaller than 20 of the past 22 Big Rock winners, it’s almost a lock to hold on and win. In the past 23 years, five boats have won the Big Rock with a Saturday catch. But in each case, those competitors fished in near-perfect offshore conditions. Nobody would classify the Saturday weather forecast as “near perfect.”
Still, a 500-pound blue marlin caught Saturday by a boat entered in all levels would be worth $690,550. That should entice the boats that have one fishing day left to try their luck in the final six hours of fishing.
Morehead City charter boat Dancin’ Outlaw, captained by Thomas Wood leads the billfish release division with 1,200 points earned by catching and releasing three blue marlins. Wood and the Dancin’ Outlaw team would receive prize money in excess of $53,969 if they can remain in the release lead one more day.
Double 07, captained by Freddie Brittington, Beaufort, holds second place in the release division with three blue marlin releases. Double 07 has 1,200 points, too, but it scored its points after Dancin’ Outlaw.
Compromise, captained by Larry Branham is third 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 eligible to fish Saturday but 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.
Since no billfish were released Friday, the $2,000 daily first release prize went unclaimed. Prize money in the Friday daily release division will roll over and be distributed to the other daily prizewinners.
Gamefish division leaders have not changed since Wednesday. 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 is 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 54th Big Rock continues Saturday morning at 8 a.m. Competitors who are hooked-up before the 2 p.m. Saturday deadline will be allowed to fight their billfish however long it takes to reach an outcome. Winners receive their prizes Saturday night at the Big Rock awards banquet staged at the Crystal Coast Civic Center.