Local Boats Dominate Early MA500

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OCEAN CITY- With plenty of fishing still to go, the 20th Annual Mid-Atlantic $500,000 Tournament, which got underway on Monday, had a decidedly Ocean City flavor as of mid-week with local boats filling out many of the top spots on the leaderboard.

Now in its 20th year, the Mid-Atlantic $500,000 continues to be one of the top sport fishing events in the region with over $2 million in prize money expected to be doled out again this year. Tournament headquarters has always been the Canyon Club in Cape May, and that hasn’t changed, but the increased number of boats from the resort area has given the event an Ocean City flair.

Eight years ago, MA500 organizers opened up Ocean City as a second port from which to fish and the change was met with great enthusiasm. For the first two years, however, any Ocean City boat that caught a qualifying fish had to transport it to the official scales in Cape May.

Six years ago, however, Sunset Marina in West Ocean City was added as an official sister port for the event and local anglers participating in the MA500 began to weigh potentially winning fish at their homeport. For three straight years, a boat fishing out of Ocean City swooped in on the last day to steal the tournament’s top prize, and a little bit of the thunder from their Jersey Shore brethren, with a big white marlin.

The MA500 officially got started on Monday, the first of five official fishing days, but bad weather and poor conditions offshore kept all but two of the 118 boats in the tournament at the dock. On Tuesday, however, 109 of the participating boats ventured out and several of the top spots on the leaderboard were filled out by days’ end with Sunset Marina seeing much of the action.

Shortly after the scale at Sunset opened for business on Tuesday, angler Robert Warder, fishing aboard the Ocean City-based “Reelentless,” weighed a 79-pound white marlin to take the top spot. The 79-pounder was temporarily worth $766,733, but it remains to be seen if it holds up the rest of the week.

Also on Tuesday, angler Rusty Palmer, fishing aboard the Ocean City-based “Tighten Up,” weighed a 70-pound white marlin to take the second spot on the leaderboard in the glamour division. The 70-pounder was worth $239,193 as of late Wednesday. Incidentally, the “Tighten Up” won the 2011 White Marlin Open’s top prize in the white marlin division. Up in Cape May, angler Chris Lepping on the “Motivation” weighed a 67-pound white marlin worth $190,213 on Tuesday to cozy into third place in the division.

The big story as of mid-week was the return of the big-eye tuna and again a local boat was right in the middle of the action. Local angler Reese Cropper and the crew on the Ocean City-based “Reel Chaos” with Captain Anthony Matarese, weighed the first-place tuna on Tuesday, a 233-pound big-eye temporarily worth $182,346. Angler Barry Weshnak on the “Miss Annie” weighed the second-place tuna on Tuesday, a 224-pound big-eye temporarily worth $119,206. Walt Harmstead on the “Tra Sea Ann” also weighed a 213-pound big-eye on Tuesday that stood to win $79,666 as of mid-week.

In the dolphin division, another local boat, the “Moore Bills” out of the Ocean City Fishing Center, stood atop the leaderboard with a 43-pounder caught by angler Don Pyle on Tuesday that was temporarily worth $18,880. There were no qualifying blue marlin or wahoo caught as of late Wednesday. The tournament wraps up this afternoon with final day weigh-ins at Sunset Marina and at Cape May.

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