Marlin Gull captain Kenny Midgett, Wanchese, and angler, William McSpadden, Coinjock, joined forces Monday to land a 564.8-pound blue marlin and win an instant prize of $433,500 as they grabbed the first-day lead in the 58th annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament.

Three blue marlins were landed Monday as the tournament celebrated its biggest start in years. A flurry of offshore billfish activity helped fill up the tournament leaderboard as 105-of-174 boats battled for $1,914,100 on opening day.

McSpadden hooked his blue marlin 81 minutes into the six-day competition. His big fish made an inside out run through the bait and, once hooked, ran deep.

Midgett was forced to back down hard to help McSpadden crank the blue marlin up from the depths. After a 94-minute fight, McSpadden and his teammates were finally able to celebrate.

But their celebration was somewhat tempered. Once their catch was on safely on board, they were told that another blue marlin was already headed to the scales with a 41-minute head start.

Sandbob captain Norm Welter, Danie, Fla., and angler Todd Nunn, Raleigh, had been able to land the first blue marlin of the 58th Big Rock after a 36-minute fight. Sandbob reached the scales first, but its catch topped out at 476.2 pounds.

That meant the Level VII Fabulous Fisherman prize – $433,500 for the first blue marlin that weighs at least 500 pounds – was still up for grabs.

“When we heard (over the radio) that the first one didn’t make it we had another ‘Hooray’ and some “High 5’s all around,” McSpadden said. “We knew we were in the money.”

A $433,500 check was awarded on the spot to the Marlin Gull crew. Marlin Gull is also in position to win an additional $662,925 if it can hold onto the tournament lead for another five days.

Sandbob holds second place in the blue marlin division and is in position to win $238,480. Sandbob won the special Pepsi-Kickstart prize of 250 silver dollars for their “kick start” to weigh station festivities. The Big Rock’s original prize had been 250 silver dollars when the contest started in 1958.

A third blue marlin was landed aboard the James Joyce II, captained by Troy Pate III of Beaufort. The James Joyce II catch, reeled in by Jim Steward, Durham, tipped the scales at 418 pounds and holds third place as the tournament heads into its second day. This catch is potentially worth $158,320.

Offshore conditions turned out to be were better than forecasters predicted. The billfish bite proved to be exceptional as competitors released 16 blue marlin, 3 white marlin and 4 sailfish during the first six hours of fishing.

Energizer, captained by Daniel Monte, Cedar Point, scored a rare fishing “grand slam” by releasing a blue marlin, a white marlin and a sailfish on opening day. Islander captain Bobby Schlegel, Greenville, holds the first-day lead in the billfish release division with two blue marlin releases.

The 58th Big Rock continues Tuesday at 9 a.m. All 174 boats in the competition are allowed to fish 4-of-6 days during the tourney. Most of the competitors are expected to head offshore Tuesday as conditions look to be even better than opening day.