Annie O grabs release lead

While blue marlin weigh-ins draw most of the media attention at Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament scales, billfish releases can deliver huge paydays to skillful and lucky crews.

Big Rock anglers who score the first release of the day win a $5,000 Gregory Poole first release prize. Winners this week include String Line, Good Times, Annie O, Redemption and Knot Done Yet.

Full Pull, captain Ryan Riggs, North Charleston, SC, won the first daily prize of $47,104 for two blue marlin releases (800 points) scored Monday. That prize grew to $56,525 when adverse weather in the fishing zone kept all but one boat in port Thursday.

Since no billfish were hooked and released Thursday, that daily release prize rolled to the other days when there were billfish releases. Other daily release winners include Drillin & Billin, Starflite and Viking 80.

Annie O, Full Pull and Drillin & Billin were in a tight race to capture the Level VII weekly release prize of $142,375 as the tournament headed into its final day. Annie O scored a blue marlin release early Saturday to increase its overall lead.

Annie O, captained by Brad Sutton, Raleigh, has tallied 1,825 release points for hooking and releasing four blue marlin, one white marlin and a sailfish. Drillin & Billin, captained by Lee Martin, Wanchese, has scored 1,600 points for four blue marlin releases. Full Pull captain Ryan Riggs, N. Charleston, S.C., and his fishing team have 1,200 points for three blue marlin releases. Second place in the Level VII division is worth $85,425. The team that finishes third will receive $56,950.

Competitors in the 61st Big Rock are allowed to fish four-of-six days and must notify officials of the days they do not intend to fish. Fishing hours are from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., except Saturday when the fishing hours are 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Any fight that starts before the end-of-day deadline can continue until the hook-up reaches a resolution.