Inspiration won the 56th annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament without perspiration Saturday as Captain Casey Wagner, Morehead City, and angler Bruce Brown, Nags Head, stayed ashore and counted down the hours until their victory was in hand.
Inspiration grabbed the Big Rock lead late Monday with a 754.3 pound blue marlin that Brown reeled in after a 4 hours and 35 minute fight. Brown’s catch – the third largest blue marlin in Big Rock history and biggest this century – took a lot of perspiration to get the fish in the boat. But once Inspiration weighted its catch it was no sweat the rest of the way.
Well ... almost.
Wagner’s skin was a bit leaky the final few minutes of the competition. Tidal Volume reported a blue marlin hook-up just 19 minutes before lines were to come out of the water. That meant the 56th Big Rock went into overtime.
Wagner stayed away from Big Rock headquarters and avoided listening to the tournament radio most of the day. But he finally tuned in to see what was going on about a minute before Tidal Volume captain Michael Biggerstaff, Greenville announced his hook-up. Wagner heard what he did not want to hear and agonized nearly an hour as he tried to enjoy a late lunch with 30 friends and family.
But at 2:39 p.m., Tidal Volume announced that it had released its blue marlin and leaders on the Big Rock leader board began to celebrate. Wagner’s childhood dream had come true.
When asked about his first thoughts after learning that Tidal Volume had released its blue marlin to bring the tournament to an end, Wagner took a deep breath and said one word: “Finally.”
Then he laughed and let out a sigh. It was easy to tell he was savoring the moment.
“This (winning the Big Rock) is something that we have aspired to … worked toward for a long time,” Wagner said, referring to the Inspiration fishing team. “Everybody that was on the boat … we’ve been friends since college. It’s a tight group of people who have always fished together. To have that entire crowd together and (my son) Cole as the mate … it’s just incredible.”
Eye Catcher, a Wrightsville Beach-based boat captained by Burrows Smith, finished in second place with a 606.9-pounder caught by rookie angler Randy Kelley of Wrightsville Beach. Eye Catcher held the inaugural lead and would have won 7-of-10 previous Big Rock’s. But things can change in the blink of an eye. This turned out to be Inspiration’s year.
Ava D, captained by Jerry Jackson, Havelock, finished third with a 491.4-pound blue marlin reeled in by Gray Hardison of Bayboro. Chainlink, captained by Ralph Griffin, Morehead City, had its 412.7-pound blue marlin was bumped from the leader board by Ava D, but the blue marlin caught by Ben Seegars, Goldsboro, finished third in the Level III division since Eye Catcher didn’t enter that portion of the tournament.
Dancin’ Outlaw captain Thomas Wood, Harkers Island, captured the top weekly release prize and held a wire-to-wire lead in division with 1,175 points for two blue marlin releases and three white marlin releases. Crack of Dawn, captained by Geoff Flynn, Beaufort, finished second in the release division with two blue marlins and two white marlins released for a total of 1,050 points. Flynn also won a $3,000 daily release prize Wednesday for releasing a blue marlin and a white marlin that day.
Since no boat won the $306,000 Level VII prize, all of those entry fees will be returned to the fishing teams that entered that level of the competition. Ava D was the only boat on the leader board that entered Level VII, but it missed winning the Fabulous Fisherman’s prize (for being first to catch and weigh in a blue marlin that weighs a minimum of 500 pounds) by 8.6 pounds.
Big Rock officials were pleased that Total Volume, a 28.8-foot True World powered with twin outboards, took the Big Rock into overtime. The Big Rock has tried to increase smaller boat participation and hope that Biggerstaff’s success (he’s won gamefish division prize money in the past) will encourage other captains to sign up for future Big Rock competitions.
Inspiration did not enter Levels IV and VII and will receive $306,137 from the 56th Big Rock’s $1,395,825 purse. Eye Catcher, entered in Levels I, II, V and VI, and receives $52,457.
Ava D entered all levels and even though it finished in third place receives the most money of all: $345, 405. Chainlink finished third in the Level III division and receives $84,150.
All other winners and winnings are listed on the tournament website participant’s leader board.
The 56th Big Rock wraps up Saturday night with an awards banquet set at the Crystal Coast Civic Center when winnings are distribute to the winners. The occasion allows Big Rock president Roger Crowe one last opportunity to express gratitude to sponsors and volunteers and to thank participants for making the Big Rock the success that it is.