OCEAN CITY- While it may lack the glamour and high payouts of the White Marlin Open, the Ocean City Marlin Club’s 51st Annual Labor Day White Marlin Tournament, which got underway this morning, trumps all others in terms of history and prestige.
Called the “granddaddy” of the resort area fishing tournaments, the Marlin Club’s annual Labor Day White Marlin Tournament is the oldest among the tournaments held in and around Ocean City each summer. The first was held in 1958 and the annual event has endured for five decades and several generations of local anglers.
The tournament got underway today with the first of three official fishing days. Participating boats and captains must choose to fish two of the three fishing days, which conclude on Sunday. As the name implies, the focus on the tournament is on white marlin, but there won’t be any billfish weighed at the scales at Sunset Marina over the weekend. The tournament’s winner in the billfish category will accumulate the most release points over the three days of fishing. White marlin, sailfish or spearfish releases will be worth 100 points, while blue marlin and swordfish releases will be worth 150 points.
There will likely be plenty of action at the scales at tournament headquarters at Sunset Marina each day, however, as there is a separate heaviest meatfish division for tuna, dolphin and wahoo. Cash prizes will be paid out to the top three places in each category. Weigh-ins will be held each of the three fishing days at Sunset Marina from 3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.
While this year marks the 51st anniversary of the Marlin Club’s first Labor Day White Marlin Tournament, the club’s history dates back about two decades earlier. The club has been around nearly as long as there has been a recreational billfish fishery off the coast of the sort, which is sometime after the cataclysmic storm of 1933 cut a permanent Inlet between the south end of the resort and what is now Assateague Island.
Ocean City was built, in part, around the fishing industry, but didn’t gain national acclaim as a major sportfishing hub until the 1933 storm cut the Inlet and allowed boats out of the resort to access the fishing grounds offshore. The first white marlin was caught of the coast of Ocean City in 1934 and the rest is history with 136 landed in 1936 and 400 landed in 1937.
A group of local charter captains realized the importance of the growing marlin fishery and in 1938 formed a loose association aimed at the conservation of the prized billfish. In May of 1938, the Articles of Association for the organization known as the Game Fish Association were adopted with the familiar orange triangular-shaped pennant adorned with a black marlin as its standard.
In 1951, the GFA merged with an unnamed billfish conservation group in the area and became the Ocean City Marlin Club, and the traditional orange flag and logo were adopted as the new club’s emblem. The omnipresent banner flies from the outriggers of the club’s member boats today and will fly proudly from the Marlin Club’s new headquarters at the foot of the harbor.