Inspiration captain Casey Wagner, Morehead City, and angler Bruce Brown of Nags Head capped a remarkable first day of fishing in the 56th annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament when they took over first place Monday evening with a 754.3-pounder caught after a 4.5 hour fight.

Brown reeled in the largest blue marlin caught during the Big Rock this century. But when he spoke to reporters, he downplayed his role during the catch and talked instead of the teamwork that made it possible.

“Casey and I have been fishing together for years,” Brown said. “It’s all about camaraderie. It’s about Casey getting to do this with his son, Cole. This was a team accomplishment. We did it together. It’s an experience that none of us will ever forget.”

The weigh station was a madhouse as hundreds of well-wishers turned out to celebrate the Inspiration’s catch. Wagner, a two time past president of the Big Rock, finished second two years ago. Now he finds himself atop the leader board, but worried what the rest of the week might bring.

“It’s Monday,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s great have the lead … but there are a lot of days left and there are a lot of good fishermen out there.”

True … but Wagner might be at the head of that list. He’s certainly doing something right. Two days ago, Wagner was at the helm when his daughter, Caroline, caught her first blue marlin during the 17th annual Keli Wagner Lady Angler Tournament, an event dedicated to the memory of his late wife and her mother. Today he shared a special catch with his son.

“We have been blessed … but we work hard at it,” Wagner said. “It’s a lot of years of fishing, a lot of years of being in this tournament and it’s finally paid off.”

Wagner then popped the cork to a champagne bottle and showered his huge catch with the bubbly.

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. Wagner did not elect to enter all levels of the competition and was not 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 there’s a lot of prize money up for grabs Tuesday as the competition continues.

Eye Catcher, a Wrightsville Beach-based boat captained by Burrows Smith, Wilmington, hooked a 606.9-pound blue marlin Monday just 11 minutes after the start of the competition and rookie angler Randy Kelley, Wrightsville Beach, reeled it in 46 minutes later. That’s good for second place and $52,457 as Eye Catcher did not enter the big-money levels.

Carnivore captain Ed Petrilli holds down the third spot with a 410.7-pound blue marlin caught by midday Monday by Brandon Bass of Goldsboro. Carnivore – winner of the 2010 Big Rock – is entered in all levels and is positioned to receive $345,405 in winnings if there are no other changes to the blue marlin leader board.

But things can change in a blink of an eye.

Eye Catcher took the inaugural tournament lead but could not stay there one day … even though it caught the largest Big Rock blue marlin in three years. This has every competitor hoping that their boat will be the next to find success offshore. Following a day when 13 blue marlins, 26 white marlins and one sailfish were caught and released, anything is possible.