As registrations for the 56th annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament reached 120 boat entries Sunday, tournament officials knew the competition would reach a seven-figure milestone for the 17th consecutive year.
Weeks of great offshore fishing and a tremendous weather forecast for the six-day Big Rock competition proved a perfect combination to generate a huge turnout. Last year, Tropical Storm Andrea churned through the offshore waters and scattered the billfish population during the first half of the tournament. There were no such issues this year as the 17th annual Keli Wagner Lady Angler (KWLA) tournament had a record 81 boats tally 18 billfish releases Saturday in a competition that went right down to the wire.
The prospect of great offshore action spurred a late registration rush Sunday. By early Monday morning the purse reached $1,395,825. The 56th Big Rock winner – if entered in all levels – could receive $797,012.50 if the blue marlin also happens to win the Level VII Fabulous Fisherman’s prize for the first blue marlin brought to the scales weighing 500 pounds or more.
While fishing teams have the option to compete any 4-of-6 days during the competition, most elect to fish the first day to have a shot at the Level VII prize which this year is worth $306,000. In 2011, Blue Water captain Gray Hall of Morehead City fished the first day of that Big Rock and claimed a $284,750 Fabulous Fisherman’s prize. Hall's angler, Jeffrey Gregg of Boca Raton, Fla., reeled in a 580.6-pounder to score the prize.
Two hours later, Double B captain Kenny Sexton of Manteo showed up at the scales with a 652.8-pound blue marlin that held the Big Rock lead through the rest of the competition. Tournament officials expect a large percentage of the field to head offshore Monday since the weather forecast points suggests very favorable fishing conditions.
Big Rock fishing teams must enter Level 1, but all other levels are optional. In the past, about half of the boats entered all levels. This year, 60% of the entrants have elected to go all in.
Every Big Rock has had its share of special moments. In 2003, the Pipe Layer fishing team captured the 45th Big Rock 677-pound blue marlin that didn’t reach the scales until after 10 at night. The Pipe Layer’s catch capped a crazy day at the Big Rock weigh station where fans witnessed five changes to the blue marlin standings.
The 46th Big Rock was won by Impulse captain/owner Donald Lane Jr., who moved to Morehead City just a few days before the competition. Lane’s crew landed a 555-pound blue marlin at the tournament’s midpoint (Wednesday) and survived a late scare from a last-minute hook-up to hold on and win.
Gigi Wagoner of Frederick, MD, captured the 47th Big Rock and became just the fourth lady angler to reel in a Big Rock winner. Margaret Adams – the inaugural Big Rock lady angler winner – captured the 22nd Big Rock (1980) by reeling in a 390-pounder on the Jet Stream. Shearwater angler Susan MacRae (1986) and Chaser angler Kathy Keel (1993) are the other lady angler winners during the six-day Big Rock competition.
The 48th Big Rock turned out to be special for Chainlink as it fenced off the field to capture the 2006 event. Wes Seegars, Goldsboro, landed a 501.5-pounder after a seven-hour fight. Seegars’ catch came shortly after Hurricane Alberto churned through the area, scrambling the water and making it tough to catch billfish.
The 49th Big Rock was particularly special because the father-son team of Tommy and Montukie Lewis were crowned champions on Father’s Day. The younger Lewis reeled in a 613-pound blue marlin aboard Bak Bar with his father at the helm to take the lead Friday with just one day left to fish. The younger Lewis went from traveling to Big Rock parties on a bicycle to riding to post-tournament celebrations in a limo.
The 50th Big Rock was extra special to everyone involved because it celebrated the tournament’s golden anniversary. Artemis, based out of Charleston, S.C. took top honors with a 640-pound blue marlin. Artemis – named after the Greek god of hunting – felt hunted all week but survived five days atop the leader board and more than 100 hook-ups to win the special anniversary event.
The 51st Big Rock was special because two friends finished atop the standings. Figment captain Glynn Lofton of Swansboro held the Big Rock lead all week until Sea Creature captain Steve Coulter, Hatteras, showed up at the scales late Saturday with a larger blue marlin. The win gave Coulter, who captained Outlaw to victory in 1992, his second Big Rock championship.
The 54th Big Rock was interesting because it was won by Flybuoy in wire-to-wire fashion after an initial disappointment at the scales. Flybuoy owner Gary Davis missed out on the Fabulous Fisherman’s prize – the catch topped out at 499.3 pounds – but he was all smiles at the end of the week when he won and received a check for $494,710.
Winning multiple Big Rock competitions is a rare feat, having only been accomplished by three captains in the past 50 years. Dr. Leroy Allen, who won Big Rock competitions in 1962 and 1983, passed away in 2012 and is missed by all who knew him. Allen was a pioneer to the sport and had a passion for bill fishing that carries on in all those he introduced to the sport, including two-time Big Rock winner Adrian Holler, Newport, who won the Big Rock in 1995 and 2001.
Nobody knows what excitement will be generated by the 2014 Big Rock. Anglers will try to score a Big Rock victory and, in doing so, become part of competition’s rich history. Every year, great catches lead to great celebrations. It’s a big part of the reason that Big Rock anglers look forward to this event, year after year.