The start of the second half of the 52nd annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament invigorated many of the competing teams Thursday, as fisherman tallied 19 billfish releases to double the total of any previous day.

Marlin Gull, captained by Richard Howell of Kitty Hawk, racked up three billfish releases, including two white marlins and one sailfish. This gives the Marlin Gull team 375 points and puts them within striking distance of the billfish release leaders with one day left to fish.

Although no blue marlins were brought to the scales Thursday, the upswing in billfish activity is a positive sign for competitors as the tournament enters its final two days. Anglers on 106-of-156 boats in the field are eligible to fish both Friday and Saturday while 49 teams can fish one more day. Only one boat is fished out.

“We’re going to have over 106 (boats) both days ... and that’s a big fleet,” said Big Rock president Randy Ramsey. “I expect a really exciting finish.
“I think today maybe we had a little evidence that the high pressure is letting up on us a little bit or wind got out of the East and is coming around to the Southwest ... which is much better for us.

“Also, the captains are getting on the fish. They’re getting on a rhythm of where fish are feeding. You put a big fleet out there and they will have a real opportunity to find them.”

Citation, a boat captained by Eric Holmes of Buxton, continues to hold first place with the tournament-record 883-pound blue marlin caught Monday. Citation received a $318,750 check for catching the first blue marlin weighing more than 500 pounds and would receive of $912,825 from the tournament’s $1.66 million purse if they hold on to win.

A second huge blue marlin was caught Wednesday by Carnivore, captained by Ed Petrilli of Cape Carteret. Carnivore came to the scales with a 528.3-pound blue marlin which puts that team in position to win $217,570 if they finish as the runner-up.

Third place – and a potential payday of $144,380 – is still open on the leader board. Additionally, the 52nd billfish release – worth $5,200 – is still up for grabs. There’s a lot left to be determined in the final 12 hours of fishing.

Miss Judy captain Lacy Henry of Atlantic Beach scored two blue marlin releases Tuesday and continues to lead the billfish release division. The Miss Judy elected to fish Thursday but did not add to its lead. The Miss Judy crew can fish one more day during the competition.

The results of the three gamefish divisions leading into Thursday have been somewhat surprising. Anglers have been catching plenty of dolphins, but tuna and wahoo have proved to be elusive.

That changed Thursday when Hunter King of Raleigh reeled in a 61.8-pound wahoo to take over the lead in that division. Hunter was fishing aboard Big Hunter, captained by Ken Lohr of Morehead City.

The tuna division is led by Barbara B, a Greenville-based boat captained by Hunter Blount. Barbara B landed a 46.6-pounder Monday and has held on to the top spot ever since. The Jabez, captained by Ben Polk of Mt. Pleasant, S.C., holds second place in the tuna division with a 41-pounder caught Tuesday.

Sea Creature, captained by Steve “Creature” Coulter of Hatteras, continues to hold the lead in the winner-take-all dolphin division. Sea Creature angler John Manousaridis of Atlantic Beach reeled in a 52.4-pounder that’s currently worth $103,990.42.

Teams fish 4-of-6 days during the Big Rock and must notify tournament headquarters by 9 a.m. if they opt to take a lay day. The 52nd Big Rock concludes Saturday with a presentation of prizes and an awards dinner at the Crystal Coast Civic Center, Morehead City.