MOREHEAD CITY — Fin Hunter caught and released the first billfish of the 14th annual Keli Wagner Lady Angler (KWLA) tournament and that proved good enough for the win.
The Fin Hunter anglers released a sailfish worth 125 points exactly one hour into the competition. Two other boats – Stream Weaver and Fight-N-Lady – managed to catch and release sailfish as well, but those teams finished second and third, respectively, because tiebreaking criteria rewards the boat that scores the most release points first. Fin Hunter will receive $7,118.75 for the victory.
A field of 67 boats went offshore Saturday to battle for prize money that topped $40,091. After a rough start, the sea settled down. Still, just one wahoo and no tuna were landed during the six hours of fishing.
The biggest cash prize went to the lady anglers on Bankwalker, who won the dolphin division with a 29.3-pounder reeled in by angler Texanna Montague. The Bankwalker team captured the Winner Take All dolphin prize of $20,400 to push their winnings to $22,772.92.
Lady anglers aboard the Dancin' Outlaw caught the tournament's only wahoo in two years and will receive an extra $2,727 that rolled over from the 2010 KWLA. Their solo wahoo turned out to be worth $5,100.
Since no tuna were caught for the second straight year, $5,100 will rollover to the 2010 KWLA tuna division.
All proceeds from the one-day billfish event will be donated to support the Raab Cancer Center at Carteret General Hospital. The KWLA – Keli Wagner Lady Angler- named after a long-time competitor who lost her battle with cancer in 2008.
In addition to the 66 teams that went offshore to fish, six non-fishing teams paid the $500 entry fee to support the charitable event. All told, $18,250 was raised to help support the KWLA charity.
“The cause is close to everyone’s heart,” said KWLA tournament director Kyra Moore. “I don’t know many people who haven’t been touched by someone with cancer. If this tournament can offer a little bit of help to the patients and their families a the Raab Center, I think that’s what everyone wants. The sponsors are supportive … the competitors. Everyone understands what this tournament is trying to do.”
Wagner, who fished and helped organize in the inaugural lady angler event, would have been proud of what the competition has become. The once quiet event that drew just a handful of boats in 1998 has morphed into a top-drawer competition. Lady anglers have fun with the “Best Dressed” portion of the event that takes place on the eve of fishing. This pre-event party is now a “don’t miss” affair that mixes fun and festive good times before a great day of fishing.
The 14th KWLA serves as a kickoff event for the 53rd Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament set to start Monday. So far, 96 boats have signed up for this year’s Big Rock, which has raised $2,413,000 for charity since 1988.