The fourth day of fishing in the 58th annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament came and went Thursday without a major change to the leader board as 113-of-174 boats in the field elected to stay in port.
A series of thunderstorms blew through the area and churned up the Big Rock fishing zone. Gusty winds generated choppy seas and blended offshore waters. This scattered billfish and made them hard to find. Competitors tallied just 10 releases -- three blue marlins, three white marlins and four sailfish -- as the tournament heads into its final two days.
The reduced bite gave tournament leaders a second unchallenged day atop the leader board. Six different blue marlins made the leader board during the first two days of the tournament, but only one blue marlin was boated during the middle two days of the competition.
This billfish lull allowed the Ashley Lauren, captained by Mark Annis, Clayton, to maintain its tournament lead for the third straight day. Ashley Lauren angler Doug Phillips, Garner reeled in a 621.4-pound blue marlin Tuesday and has not been challenged for the lead.
The Ashley Lauren catch is worth $662,995 to the Clayton-based fishing team if it can stay in first place two more days.
Marlin Gull, captained by Kenny Midgett, Wanchese, held the first-day lead with a 564.8-pound blue marlin caught by angler William McSpadden, Coinjock. McSpadden helped his team win the $433,500 Fabulous Fisherman prize for landing the first 500-pound blue marlin during this year’s Big Rock. Marlin Gull would win an additional $238,480 if it can finish in second place.
Piracy captain Chris Russell and angler C.J. Struyk, Morehead City, are in third place with a 558.8-pound blue marlin that was landed late Tuesday. The Morehead City-based Piracy team is currently in position to win $158,320 from the Big Rock’s record $1,914,100 purse.
Bank Walker captain Bryant Montague, Raleigh, continues to lead the Level V release division with two blue marlin releases. Montague tallied the first release of the tournament and added a second blue marlin release Tuesday. The Bank Walker has 800 points and is in position to win $88,612 plus daily prizes.
Energizer captain Daniel Monette, Cedar Point, holds second place in the release division after scoring a “grand slam” -- the release of a blue marlin, a white marlin and a sailfish on the same day. Energizer earned 650 points for the slam and would receive $53,167 plus Level I release prize money if it can finish as the runner-up.
Inspiration, captained by Casey Wagner, Morehead City, continues to lead the “Winner Take All” dolphin division with a 49.3-pounder reeled in by angler Trent Ragland, Raleigh. The Inspiration fishing team won the dolphin division of the 19th annual Keli Wagner Lady Angler (KWLA) Blue Marlin Tournament last Saturday and is in position to win $130,050 for this large catch.
Reelist Too, captained by Ken Kramer, Morehead City, grabbed the wahoo division lead with a 16.4-pounder reeled in by angler Randall Sartwell, Emerald Isle. No yellowfin tuna have been caught during the first four days of the competition. All gamefish division winners receive $3000 plus applicable daily prizes.
All but seven boats from the field of 174 have at least one day of fishing left in the tournament. Each boat is allowed to fish 4-of-6 days during the competition.
The fifth day of fishing in the six-day event continues Friday at 9 a.m. The tournament concludes Saturday with an awards ceremony at the Crystal Coast Civic Center.