The 56th annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament reached its midpoint Wednesday with no major changes to the standings. The only blue marlin brought to the scales did not measure at least 110 inches in lower jaw fork length or weigh 400 pounds and did not meet tournament minimums.

That means Inspiration captain Casey Wagner, Morehead City, and angler Bruce Brown, Nags Head, continue to hold the Big Rock lead with a 754.3 pound blue marlin landed Monday after a fight that lasted 4 hours and 35 minutes. Inspiration’s catch is the largest blue marlin caught during the Big Rock this century.

Second place continues to be held by Eye Catcher, a Wrightsville Beach-based boat captained by Burrows Smith, Wilmington. Eye Catcher hooked a 606.9-pound blue marlin 11 minutes after the start of the competition Monday and rookie angler Randy Kelley, Wrightsville Beach, reeled to the boat in 46 minutes.

Carnivore captain Ed Petrilli, Cape Carteret, continues to hold down the third spot with a 410.7-pound blue marlin caught Monday by Brandon Bass of Goldsboro.
For the second straight day, releases and gamefish catches have dominated the action. The offshore bite has been excellent, but larger blue marlins that were hooked up Tuesday and Wednesday all got away.

Ninety five of the 120 boats entered in the tourney fished Wednesday and the results mirrored what took place Tuesday. Anglers tallied a good number of billfish releases – 10 blue marlins, 17 white marlins and 3 sailfish – but nobody was able to reel in a big blue marlin.

The undersized blue marlin died during the fight and was brought to the scales by James Joyce II captain Troy Pate, Beaufort, as required by the tournament rules. The James Joyce II will be penalized four hundred pounds from the weight of the largest blue marlin it weighs in the rest of the tournament. In addition, a penalty of 400 points will be taken away from the total of release points accumulated during the competition.

Dancin’ Outlaw captain Thomas Wood, Harkers Island, continues to lead the weekly release division with two blue marlins and two white marlins (1,050 points) that were all released Monday. Dancin’ Outlaw would win $77,287 if it can maintain its lead three more days.

Billfisher, captained by John Duffie, Ocean City, MD, has released two blue marlin and a white marlin to hold second place in the overall release standings with 925 points.

Inspiration will receive $306,137 from the 56th Big Rock’s $1,395,825 purse if it can hang onto the tournament lead through Saturday. Neither the Inspiration nor the Eye Catcher elected to enter all levels of the competition and neither were eligible to receive the $306,000 prize for being the first to catch and bring to the scales a blue marlin that weighed a minimum of 500 pounds. That means that prize is still available as anglers gear up for the second half of the tournament.

Wednesday at the Big Rock weigh station was a wild and wonderful at the same time. Jimmy Croy, Raleigh, the first angler to catch a blue marlin in the waters off of Morehead City, provided the wonderful part. He told the large crowd an exciting story about this inaugural catch as they waited for competitors to return to port. Croy’s blue marlin catch in 1957 is the starting point for all Big Rock tournaments that followed.

When boats started to arrive at the scales, that’s when things got wild. Gamekeeper, captained by Ken Upton, Wilmington, took the overall lead in the wahoo division with a 77.2 pound catch. But Gamekeeper only held the lead for five minutes. That’s when Purple Pirate, captained by Craig Clark, Morehead City, arrived at the scales with a 77.8-pounder. The largest wahoo of the tournament before that was a 58.2-pounder landed aboard the EZ Boy captained by Van Pierce of Trinity.

As short time later, Sandrita, captained by Louis Defusco of Warwick, RI, showed up to the scales with a 45.5 pound dolphin – the exact weight of the tournament leading fish caught aboard the Haphazard, captained by Will Ross of Wanchese. While ties go to the runner in baseball, ties go to the first boat to weigh in a fish first in Big Rock competitions. Haphazard will win $3,000 and Sandrita will receive $2000 if the standings hold the rest of the week.

With the lure of $306,000 still out there for the Level VII Fabulous Fisherman prize (for the first boated and weighed in blue marlin weighing 500 or more pounds) many boats will fish their fourth and final day of fishing Thursday. Some will use one of two mandatory lay days and hope those who go out Thursday don’t find a big blue marlin.

At this time it’s hard to predict which strategy will be correct. It’s part of what makes the Big Rock a wild and wonderful competition.