22nd KWLA completes amazing day offshore

When lines came out of the water Saturday, five of the record 167 boats entered in the 22nd annual Keli Wagner Lady Angler (KWLA) Blue Marlin Tournament were still hooked up. That meant the competition would continue until all fights reach a resolution.

In the end, KWLA anglers released 13 blue marlin, eight white marlins and nine sailfish. It was unknown how many gamefish were headed to the Big Rock scales.

Ominous weather forecasts didn’t discourage a record number of teams from entering the KWLA. Seasoned competitors studied revised offshore weather projections late Friday and decided that better-than-anticipated weather would actually make Saturday’s one-day competition extra special.

It made for a crazy rush of registrations at tournament headquarters and later that evening at the KWLA pre-tournament party.

“To be honest, the record total didn’t surprise me,” said KWLA director Madison Maxwell. “When reports from offshore boats indicated Friday (Gulf Stream fishing) was great, we had a surge in registrations. KWLA competitors look forward to this competition every year. They weren’t going to let a little bit of rain spoil the fun.”

Last year, Hit-N-Run captured the 21st annual KWLA when it topped a then-record 161 boats to win $66,406 in perfect fishing conditions. Hit-N-Run captain David Fields put Mindy Fitzpatrick, Morehead City, on a blue marlin 80 minutes into the start of fishing and she reeled hard to tally a release after a 77-minute fight

The KWLA, which once struggled to reach double-digit registration totals, has now become the largest one-day billfish release tournament in the nation. This year, anglers will battle for $177,925. The team with the most billfish release points, if entered in the Winner Take All (WTA) billfish category, would receive a check for $81,525 at the Big Rock awards ceremony.

This year, winning teams must provide indisputable video or photo evidence and file release paperwork to qualify for releases points and prizes. Proceeds from the one-day billfish event will be donated to KWLA charities. Since 1998, KWLA has raised $349,165 for charities, including $303,916 for Carteret Health Care’s Cancer Center.