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Big Rock purse reaches $1.63 million

Just as American Pharaoh crossed the Belmont finish line Saturday to become the first triple-crown winner in 37 years, registrations for the 57th annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament galloped past 110 boat entries to guarantee the competition would reach a seven-figure purse for the 18th consecutive year.
A promising weather forecast and excellent offshore fishing combined to create a super turnout. By 3 p.m. Sunday – the day before the six-day competition starts – additional entries added another 30 boats to the field, including 21 in the new outboard division that is expected to open the tournament up to a new cadre of anglers. By the time the registration and upgrade deadline was reached 9 a.m. Monday morning, 149 boats had registered for the competition, including 67 percent in the "winner take all" blue marlin division.
The prospect of great fishing and good weather spurred the late registrations. The final signups pushed the purse to $1,632,650, which means the 57th Big Rock winner – if entered in all levels – could receive $923,875 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 $365,500. Taking an early lead, while risky in a horse race, has a strong recent track record at the Big Rock.
Last year, Inspiration captain Casey Wagner, Morehead City, and angler Bruce Brown of Nags Head caught a 754.3-pound blue marlin on the first day of fishing. Brown’s catch was the largest blue marlin caught during the Big Rock this century.
In 2012, Flybuoy won the 54th Big Rock in wire-to-wire fashion after an initial disappointment at the scales. Flybuoy owner Gary Davis missed out on the Fabulous Fisherman’s prize when his catch topped out at 499.3 pounds. But Davis – was all smiles at the end of the week when he received the first-place check that totaled $494,710.
In 2011, Blue Water captain Gray Hall of Morehead City fished the first day of that competition and claimed a $284,750 Fabulous Fisherman’s prize after angler, Jeffrey Gregg of Boca Raton, Fla., reeled in a 580.6-pounder. 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.
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, with a slew of late upgrades, 67% of the entrants have elected to go all in. It helped push the "winner take all" dolphin division to an all-time record $110,500.
“We could not be happier,” said Big Rock president Roger Crowe. “We have a tremendous weather forecast and a huge turnout. The (Saturday) 18th annual Keli Wagner Lady Angler (KWLA) tournament had a record 96 entries and a competition that went right down to the wire. We expect an exciting 57th Big Rock.”
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 p.m. 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 special to most because it celebrated the tournament’s golden anniversary. Artemis, based out of Charleston, S.C. took top honors with a 640-pound blue marlin caught on that tournament’s opening day. Artemis – named after the Greek god of hunting – felt hunted all week but survived five days atop the leader board.
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.
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 but left a lasting legacy. Allen began fishing for blue marlins on boats with outboard motors, part of the Big Rock’s impetus to go back to the roots of this sport. Allen introduced many to the excitement of billfish competitions, including two-time Big Rock winner Adrian Holler, Newport, who won the Big Rock in 1995 and 2001.
Nobody knows what thrills will be generated by the 57th Big Rock. Competitors in the new outboard division will try to lasso the $17,000 first-place prize. Billfish release division winners will battle down the home stretch for with more than $120,000 on the line. And all anglers will try to race to the finish with the Big Rock lead. Great catches lead to great celebrations. It’s one reason Big Rock anglers look forward to this event – and a chance at a crowning moment – year after year.

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