One year after setting a record with 144 boat entries, the 21st annual Keli Wagner Lady Angler (KWLA) blue marlin tournament set another all-time mark when 161 fishing teams signed up for the one-day competition.
The KWLA, which once struggled to reach a double-digit registration total, has now become the largest one-day billfish release tournament in the nation. The prize money, which once barely covered boat operational expenses, is now a significant windfall.
As teams headed offshore Saturday, KWLA officials confirmed a record purse would be up for grabs. By the end of the day, skilled and lucky KWLA competitors would divvy up $149,388.
“This is beyond exciting,” said Madison Maxwell, KWLA tournament coordinator. “The new winner-take-all (WTA) billfish release level has 116 entries and features a $49,300 prize. The WTA dolphin prize is $65,875 … and a record amount will be donated to KWLA charities. The total purse last year was $99,520 and it was obvious early on that this year’s KWLA would be bigger. It’s a great way to kick off all the Big Rock events.”
Teams gathered Friday evening at the Crystal Coast Civic Center to review tournament rules and celebrate at a pre-competition party. Six teams won awards in the best-dressed competition, a KWLA party event that puts fishiness, creativity, originality, effort, presentation and spirit on display.
Despite a steady rain, all 161 boats headed offshore early Saturday morning in preparation for the 8 a.m. start. Being the first boat to score release points has almost always led to a KWLA victory. Teams will be at the ready as the official KWLA start is announced over the tournament radio.
Proceeds from the one-day billfish event will be donated to KWLA charities. Since 1998, KWLA has raised $324,165 for charities, including $278,916 for Carteret Health Care’s Cancer Center.