There was a quiet excitement at Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament headquarters Sunday as event officials and staffers watched fishing teams continued to register for the upcoming six-day competition. Shortly before 2 p.m. it became official: Big Rock’s purse exceeded $2 million for the first time in tournament history.

By 5 p.m. Sunday, 172 boats were registered to take part in the competition. The purse surged to $2,321,975 and was expected to grow even more Sunday evening.

“It’s amazing,” said Crystal Hesmer, now in her 20th year as tournament director. “The Kelly Wagner Lady Angler (KWLA) tournament had a record turnout (144 boats) and now this. We can’t wait to get started (Monday) since we expect a very exciting first day.”

Competitors in 103 of the 172 boats have entered all levels of the competition. That means a winning blue marlin catch would be worth $1,108,112 if it captures Levels I, II, III, IV and V.

Teams entered in all levels are expected to fish Monday during the first day of competition. While it’s mandatory for each team to spend 2-of-6 days in port, to do so on the first day risks letting another team capture the Level V Fabulous Fisherman’s prize that this year is worth $437,750.

Last year, the Ashley Lauren fishing team pocketed $662,925 for the 621.4-pound blue marlin reeled in by Doug Phillips. But Ashley Lauren missed winning the $433,500 Fabulous Fisherman’s (Level V) prize as Marlin Gull was first to the scales with a 500-pounder.

Marlin Gull, whose catch tipped the scales at 564.8 pounds, also finished second overall for an additional $238,400.

Ashley Lauren and Marlin Gull fishing teams are signed up again this year, as are several other former champions. Anglers aboard Inspiration, Dancin’ Outlaw, Chaser, Double B, Outlaw, Sea Creature, Viking 62 and Waste Knot will attempt to win a second Big Rock title for their boat. Sea Striker anglers will try to become the first fishing team to win three Big Rocks.

Through the years, Big Rock officials have strived to conduct a world-class competition that raises charitable proceeds for core charities and select community projects. Since 1988, charitable donations have topped $4,084,896. KWLA tournaments, which precede the Big Rock each year, have generated an additional $299,416 for charities.

Most of the fishing teams spent Sunday quietly, making final preparations for the six days that lay ahead. All wish maritime legend Omie Tillet could be at Big Rock headquarters Monday morning for the blessing of the fleet. Unfortunately, Tillet will not be able to attend this year because of health issues.

“We’ve been blessed so many ways over the years,” Hesmer said as she watched registrations continued at the tournament headquarters. “We have a perfect weather forecast and a record Big Rock purse. We have great competitors and outstanding sponsors. We have amazing community support and an exceptional staff. Six days from now we’ll crown a new winner and distribute more than $2 million in prize money. What could be better than that?

Back in 1957, the prize was just 250 silver dollars. This time the winner will receive a lot more … including the distinction of forever being a Big Rock champion.