Friday the 13th proved unlucky at the 56th annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament as the billfish bite became a ghost of itself after four great days of fishing.
Only three blue marlin and two white marlin releases were recorded by the 50 boats that fished the penultimate day of competition. Just 55-of-120 boats in the field are eligible to fish Saturday as the 56th Big Rock draws to a close.
With no blue marlins boated Friday, Inspiration captain Casey Wagner, Morehead City, and angler Bruce Brown, Nags Head, moved one step closer to victory. Inspiration grabbed the Big Rock lead Monday with a 754.3 pound blue marlin that Brown battled for 4 hours and 35 minutes.
Eye Catcher, a Wrightsville Beach-based boat captained by Burrows Smith, has been in second place since Monday with a 606.9-pound blue marlin caught by rookie angler Randy Kelley of Wrightsville Beach. Ava D captain Jerry Jackson, Havelock, and angler Gray Hardison, Bayboro, hold third place with a 491.4-pound blue marlin.
The Big Rock radio was so eerily silent Friday after lines went in the water. Safari, captained by Kevin Gaylord, Wilmington, recorded the only billfish release during the first hour of fishing. Safari had two other hook-ups later on, but both of those fish got away.
Magic Moment was back in action Friday after having to use the previous two days as lay days to affect repairs from a Tuesday lightning strike (now posted on YouTube.) The owners of Speculator offered their boat Thursday if Magic Moment wasn’t ready, but damaged electrical and engine components had been replaced. Even so, other issues showed up Friday while offshore so the Magic Moment team will finish the competition on the Sea Hag.
Of the 55 boats that head offshore Saturday, 22 boats still have a chance to instantly win $306,000 for being the first boat entered in Level VII to catch and weigh a blue marlin that weighs a minimum of 500 pounds. Ava D was the only boat on the leader board that entered Level VII, but it missed winning the Fabulous Fisherman’s prize by 8.6 pounds.
Dancin’ Outlaw captain Thomas Wood, Harkers Island, has led the weekly release division since Monday when he scored two blue marlin releases and two white marlin releases. Dancin’ Outlaw added a white marlin release Thursday for a total of 1175 release points. Wood would win $77,287 plus daily prizes if he can hold the lead one more day.
Billfisher, captained by John Duffie, Ocean City, MD, is second in the release division with two blue marlins and a white marlin release for a total of 925 points. Duffie is positioned to win $45,572 plus a $5,600 bonus for releasing the 56 billfish of the 56th Big Rock.
The only nightmare on this freaky Friday is trying to make sense of the prize-money payouts. Since the two top boats on the leader board did not elect to enter all levels of competition, the payoff amounts appear to be typed incorrectly.
Inspiration, which did not enter Levels IV and VII, will receive $308,137 from the 56th Big Rock’s $1,395,825 purse if it stays atop the leader board Saturday at the completion of fishing. Eye Catcher, entered in Levels I, II, V and VI, would receive $52,457 if it finishes second.
This is where things get weird. Ava D – entered in all levels and in third place – would receive the most money of all: $345, 405. If that isn’t crazy enough, Chainlink, whose 412.7-pound blue marlin was bumped from the leader board by Ava D, would take third in Level III division and receive $84,150.
If the standings don’t change Saturday, this would be the first time since the Big Rock switched to paying three places 16 years ago that a boat not on the leader board won prize money.
The 56th 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 blue marlin hook-ups reach a resolution (the fish is released, boated or escapes.) The announcement of any Saturday hook-up is scary to fishing team members whose boats are positioned on the leader board. In 1998, Waste Knot won the 40th Big Rock with a last-day catch and five years ago, Sea Creature won the 51st Big Rock on the final day.
All that this means is the Big Rock is never over until it’s over. Then and only then can the leaders on the leader board breathe easy and celebrate.