Wolverine captain Rocky Hardison, Beaufort, showed a flair for the dramatic Monday, upstaging a boat that had just won $531,250 on the first day of the 61st annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament.
Hardison and angler Cory Zeigler arrived at the scales with a 588.9-pound blue marlin to take over first place from Sweetum, the tournament’s inaugural leader. Sweetum captain Pete Rae, a former Morehead City resident, got a Texas-sized welcome Monday when he brought a 545.1-pounder to the weigh station at 1:10 p.m. Unfortunately for Rae, his lead held for less than five hours.
Hardison, who was the winning mate at the 38th Big Rock in 1996, knew he had a big fish on as soon as he saw it.
“We had a pretty good idea about what it was going to weigh,” said Hardison. “Basically there was just a big swirl behind the long rigger and as soon as it came tight the white water flew. The fish jumped one time and we knew it was going to be a real one. It was pretty well on from then.”
Zeigler fought his catch for 65 minutes before heading to the scales.
Rae, who now runs a charter boat out of Plano, TX, was cheered by his former hometown crowd when the weight of his fish was announced. Rae and angler Scott DeWolf, Plano, TX, put the Sweet crew in position to win the Level V Fabulous Fishermen prize worth $531,250 after three run-outs and a successful 44-minute fight.
“It’s a great Monday,” said DeWolf. “We have to wait and see what happens … but so far, it’s great.”
DeWolf alluded to an unusual situation where the first boated blue marlin was still not at the scales. The Post Call, captained by Gene Ward, Morehead City, landed a blue marlin four minutes before Sweetum. Post Call had fished further offshore and needed more time to run to port. All the Sweetum crew could do was sit and wait.
When Post Call’s catch topped out at 451.4 pounds a second celebration began at the Morehead City Yacht Basin where the Sweetum was docked. Big Rock officials called the Sweetum crew to come back and get their check. Post Call’s catch was good enough to take second place in the overall standings but it left Sweetum with the check for $531,250 and a shot at $1,324,438 if it could hold onto first place.
Post Call’s misfortune was compounded 50 minutes later when Top Dog showed up at the scales with a 464.9-pound blue marlin reeled in by angler Kyle Dickerson of Laytonsville, MD. Top Dog didn’t become the top dog, but it took over second place and bumped Post Call to third.
Unfortunately for the Post Call crew, their slide would continue. Piracy, captained by Chris Russell, Morehead City, showed up at the weigh station with a 461.4-pound blue marlin reeled in by C.J. Struyk, Newport. That was the last call for Post Call as Piracy took over third place.
Piracy had been on a tear lately, catching the largest blue marlin at the Hatteras Invitational three weeks ago. But Piracy got bumped off the leaderboard by Wolverine. It was the second time in three years Piracy found a place on the Big Rock leader board only to get knocked off.
Dona Mae caused the final shuffle of the afternoon, taking over second place with a 569.9-pound blue marlin. Dona Mae captain Joe Webb, Anna Maria Island, FL, and angler James Luihn, Vero Beach, FL., teamed to put their team in position to win $289,863.
The Big Rock weigh station went is through its version of overtime, waiting for two other boats to arrive. Big Tahuna arrived at 8:30 p.m. with a 482.3-pound blue marlin that did not make the leader board. Shenandoah failed to boat its blue marlin after a seven-hour fight and will battle the rest of the tournament with a 400-point penalty on any billfish release total and a 400-pound penalty on any future boated blue marlin.
The last time the Big Rock experienced a day like this was 2003 when seven blue marlins were boated and five different boats took a turn atop the leader board. That year Pipe Layer showed up at the scales unannounced at 10 p.m. with the winning catch.
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.