OCEAN CITY- Ocean City will once again become the center of the sportfishing universe on Monday when hundreds of anglers and thousands of spectators gather in the resort for the milestone 40th White Marlin Open.
For four decades, the White Marlin Open has been one of the highlights of the summer season in Ocean City, a kind of crescendo before the downward slide into mid-August and the close of another summer season. Thousands of fishing enthusiasts will cram into host Harbour Island marina each day next week for a chance to see a potential million dollar fish raised at the scale. Over 300 boats typically compete in the annual tournament, recognized as one of the top billfish tournaments in the world.
Just as they have for decades, hundreds of spectators will line the seawall at the Inlet to watch the parade of boats chugging out to the canyons off the coast on Monday. Much has changed since angler Vince Soranson won the first White Marlin Open with a 68-pounder way back in 1974, but much has remained the same. The tournament gets underway on Monday with the first of five official fishing days and participating captains and teams of anglers choose to fish three of the five days.
In some years, the winning fish in the signature white marlin category is caught on the first day and hangs on all week as challenger after challenger are brought to the scale. In other years, the winning fish is brought to the scale at Harbour Island at the 11th hour on the tournament’s last day.
In either case, there is never any shortage of drama in the tournament with millions in prize money at stake in several categories, including, of course, white marlin, blue marlin, tuna, dolphin, wahoo and shark. Thus far, after a lukewarm start, the offshore fishing season in Ocean City has started to heat up in the last few weeks as evidenced by the remarkable big-eye tuna bite during the Ocean City Tuna Tournament two weeks ago. In the last week or so, the number of reported billfish release has spiked up and wahoo have started making appearances around the marinas as the resort’s sportfishing fleet has started to gear up for the tournament.
Last year’s tournament was one of the most unusual in recent memory with just a single fish, a 72-pound white marlin caught by local angler Bill Woody on the “Blew Bayou” the only qualifying white and was caught on Wednesday. After several years of big, fat whites dueling it out on the leaderboard, and a couple of grander blue marlin stunning the crowd at Harbour Island, Woody’s 72-pound white marlin was the only qualifier weighed over the course of five-day tournament, essentially turned into a three-day event because of book-end bad fishing days on either end of the week.
The 72-pounder, weighed just about smack dab in the middle of the whirlwind three days when just about all of the 253 registered boats used their fishing days, help up the rest of the week and finished as the only qualifier in the white marlin category. When a couple of blue marlin weighed came up just short of the 500-pound minimum, that category also remained wide open. As a result, Woody and the crew on the “Blew Bayou” were awarded the first, second, and third-place white marlin money and the blue marlin money, resulting in a payoff of over $1.4 million.
While a single white marlin took home all of the prize money in the division, along with the blue marlin division money, the tuna division was perhaps the most active during the 2012 WMO. On Tuesday, angler Dave Dunton on the “Canyon Runner” posted a 236-pound big-eye to take over the top spot in the category. Just a day later, however, angler Norman Pulliam on the “Right Hook” hauled in a 238-pound big-eye to nudge past the “Canyon Runner” into first-place. When the dust settled, it was Pulliam and the “Right Hook” taking first place with a 238-pounder worth 4324,516. Dunton and the “Canyon Runner” crew took second with a 236-pound big-eye worth $253,825, and Christian Manetta and the crew on the “Tra Sea Ann” took third with a 229-pound big-eye worth $24,758.
In the Dolphin Division, it was angler Arthur Kontos on the “Let It Ride” taking first-place with a 33-pounder worth $20,648. While the “Canyon Runner” got nudged into second place in the tuna division, it did hold on to first place in the wahoo division with a 70.5-pounder worth $28,756.
One of the big stories in the 2012 WMO came in the shark division, where a Maryland state record for a scalloped hammerhead was weighed on Thursday. Angler Scott Cusick fishing on the “Milling Around” weighed a 266.5-pound scalloped hammerhead on Thursday, taking over the top spot in the tournament’s shark division. The 266.5-pound scalloped hammerhead took the top prize in the shark division and earned $5,150.