OCEAN CITY – The 22nd Annual Ocean City Tuna Tournament returns next week when hundreds of boats and thousands of anglers descend on the resort area for a three-day search for the burly behemoths in the canyons off the coast of the resort.
Tuna of all shapes, sizes and species have begun arriving in the waters off Ocean City in the last few weeks, jumpstarting the summer offshore season and setting the tone for what could be a memorable tournament. The event gets underway next week with a captain’s meeting and late registration next Thursday before the first of three fishing days next Friday, July 10.
The annual Ocean City Tuna Tournament is one of the highlights of the summer offshore tournament season each year, second only perhaps to the White Marlin Open in terms of prize money awarded and the number of boats and anglers participating.
Thousands of spectators will cram into the Ocean City Fishing Center for the four-day event, which has become a celebration of fishing, food, live music and, of course, the daily weigh-ins at the scale.
From modest beginnings in 1988, when just 38 boats participated and a mere $9,000 in prize money was doled out to the winners, the Ocean City Tuna Tournament has grown by leaps and bounds over the last two decades. For example, last year over 100 boats chugged out to the canyons off the coast to vie for a little over $571,000 in prize money awarded.
While the Tuna Tournament might lack the prestige and glamour of the White Marlin Open set for next month in Ocean City, it does not lack excitement and suspense. It can be said the Tuna Tournament is the “beast” to the White Marlin Open’s “beauty.” Legend has it Captain Jim Whaley, back in the 1950s, would ask his charter customers if they were interested in fishing for beauty or beast, referring to marlin or tuna.
At stake again this year in the 22nd Annual Ocean City Tuna Tournament are hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money in several categories. As the name suggests, the event is largely about tuna, but there will also be prize money awarded in several other categories including billfish and dolphin, for example. The tuna tournament will award cash prizes in two major categories: the largest single fish brought to the scale at the Ocean City Fishing Center; and the most total pounds caught over the three fishing days.
Captains must choose to fish two of the three scheduled fishing days, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and the suspense builds as the leaderboard changes with each passing day and sometimes each passing hour. Last year, for example, the suspense built all weekend as the teams that weighed big fish early in the tournament watched as boat after boat unloaded their catches at the scales.
When the drama ended, the crew aboard the “Marli” took the tournament’s top prize with a string of tuna weighed on the last day including a 99-pounder and five other yellowfin tuna to weigh. When the stringer was hauled up the scale, the “Marli” had a two-day total of 453 pounds, good enough for first place and a check for $107,102. Finishing in second place in the heaviest total weight division with a two-day total of 361 pounds, was the crew aboard the “Fish Whistle,” which was rewarded with a check for $48,088. The crew aboard the “Evil Eye” took third place in the category with 342 total pounds and earned $24,589.
Following a similar trend, the leader board in the single heaviest tuna category completely changed on Sunday. When the dust settled after a whirlwind couple of hours, angler Lance Crampton on the “Marlin Magic” took first place with a 190-pounder worth $87,302. Crampton was also the top junior angler in the tournament and earned an additional $1,000.
Coming in second place in the single heaviest tuna category was angler Ron Care on the “Fin-Ness,” who hauled in a 183-pounder worth $238,888 because of added entry levels. Third place in the single heaviest tuna category went to angler Greg Garman on the “D.A. Sea,” who weighed a 174-pound tuna worth $36,469.
The single heaviest dolphin category produced some drama of its own with the leader board changing on Sunday. Angler Anthony Close on the “Parker 28” took first place with a 34-pounder worth $2,500. Angler Gunnar Zorn, fishing aboard the “Squidnation” took second with a 30-pounder worth $1,000. Matt Dahl on the “Marli” and Jake Burger on the “Marlin Magic” shared third place, each with a 28-pounder, and were awarded $250 apiece.
As previously mentioned, Lance Crampton on the “Marlin Magic” was the top junior angler. Ryan Kirk on the “Tuna Box” was second-place top junior angler, while Sean Summers on the “Jo Jo” came in third in the top junior angler category. Angler Diane Oros aboard the “Mugger” was the top lady angler in the tournament with a 97-pound tuna worth $1,500.