The Viking 72 fishing team experienced both sides of the luck spectrum this week before grabbing third place in the 58th annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament standings Friday with a 564.1-pound blue marlin reeled in by angler Drew McDowell, Jupiter, Fla.
Viking 72 captain Ryan Higgins, Jupiter, Fla., just tilted his head a bit when told McDowell’s catch missed taking second place by less than a pound. “Still better than the other day,” Higgins said with a shrug.
Higgins was referring to Wednesday when the Viking 72 crew had a blue marlin in their teasers as the 3 p.m. fishing deadline approached. That blue marlin finally got hooked … but 20 seconds too late to qualify for the tournament.
“I’m just happy to make the leader board today,” Higgins said. “We were fortunate to be able to fish the Big Rock because our boat was just finished. We’ll take the boat back to the factory in New Gretna, N.J., and have some minor work done. Then we’ll start the tournament season up north.”
Viking 72 will win $158,320 if it can finish in third place.
The Ashley Lauren, captained by Mark Annis, Clayton, maintained its tournament lead for the fourth 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 another day.
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. The Marlin Gull will win an additional $238,480 if it can finish in second place.
A second blue marlin was weighed in Friday but that catch did not impact the standings. The Impulse fishing team, -- fishing aboard a replacement boat named Dawg Catcher – came to the scales with a 551.5 pound blue marlin that missed knocking Piracy out of third place by 7.4 pounds.
Piracy, captained by Chris Russell, Morehead City, dodged one bullet but it couldn’t dodge two. Piracy angler C.J. Struyk, Morehead City, landed a 558.8-pound blue marlin Tuesday, a catch that proved to be 5.3 pounds lighter than the Viking 72 catch.
Bank Walker captain Bryant Montague, Raleigh, lost and regained Level V release division lead Friday with a third blue marlin release for the week. Montague tallied the first release of the tournament and added a second blue marlin release Tuesday. The Bank Walker has 1,200 points and is in position to win $88,612 plus Level I release prize money if it can finish in first place.
Islander, captained by Bobby Schlegel, Greenville, briefly held the tournament lead with the release of two blue marlins and a white marlin for 925 points. Islander would receive $53,167 plus Level I release prize money if it can finish as the Level V release 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 huge dolphin.
The Friday bite was the best of the week as anglers caught and released 14 blue marlins, 14 white marlins, nine sailfish and one spearfish. Beautiful offshore conditions were mirrored onshore until a late afternoon rain shower drenched the Morehead City waterfront and forced the cancellation of a special concert by country music star James Wesley.
The final day of the competition is predicted to be a blowout with wind gusts exceeding 40 MPH. Fishing teams are only allowed to fish 4-of-6 days during the competition and only 27 boats are eligible to fish Saturday during the event’s final hours.
The sixth and final day of fishing in the 58th Big Rock continues Saturday at 8 a.m. The tournament concludes 2 p.m. Saturday or after all billfish hookups before that time have reached resolution. All prizes will be distributed Saturday evening at an awards ceremony held at the Crystal Coast Civic Center.