OCEAN CITY — After a remarkably slow start, the 2014 hits its stride by mid-week last week with the big money fish in the two glamour divisions hitting the scale on Thursday.
The tuna division was all wrapped up on Monday of Marlin Week, as was the shark division. The winning wahoo was caught on Tuesday and the winning dolphin was caught on Wednesday, but going in to last Thursday with most boats still having two fishing days remaining, the drama in the white marlin and blue marlin divisions unfolded in a couple of hours.
There were 411 white marlin caught and released during the tournament with just 12 boated and brought to the scale, for a 97-percent release rate. On day one alone, there were 100 white marlin caught and released, setting a tone for the first three days of the tournament. A handful were weighed and came up just short. The same situation played out in the blue marlin division, where a 454-pounder was the very first fish weighed on Monday.
As each day passed, it remained uncertain if there would be a qualifying white marlin, but that all changed in the matter of about two-and-half hours on Thursday, also known as “moving day” around the tournament.
The “Melina” was waiting at the scale about an hour before it opened with a white marlin in the boat on Thursday. However, while the fish met the minimum length requirements, it weighed in at around 65 pounds, falling short of the minimum 70 pounds, and the billfish drought continued. However, around 4:15 p.m., the “Gratitude” rolled up to the dock with a big blue marlin on board.
After the scale master made the requisite measurements, the big blue marlin was pulled from the boat and it didn’t come easily. When it was finally hoisted at the scale, it topped out at 738 pounds, becoming the first qualifying billfish of the tournament on Day 4. The blue was caught by angler Sam Lancellota of Ellicott City and the “Gratitude” is out of Virginia Beach.
Lancelotta said the blue marlin came up close to the boat and it looked like it would take the bait. After the third or fourth try, the big blue took the bait and ran. The “Gratitude” captain backed down on the fish and Lancelotta jumped into the chair. Lancelotta said the fish danced and jumped for a while before it was boated in about 35 minutes, a remarkable time for a fish that size. When asked if it was the biggest blue marlin he ever caught, Lancelotta said it was the only blue marlin he ever caught. He then took the traditional leap into the marina lagoon for a first-time billfish catch.
When the blue marlin was examined after the weigh-in and celebration, a broken off bill from another billfish was found stuck in the fish near its gills, leading to speculation it had a recent collision or interaction with another billfish. The big blue marlin was donated to the Maryland Food Bank to help feed the hungry around the state.
With a big blue marlin on the board, the excitement grew as the boats waiting to get to the scale lined up in the harbor. Around 6:30 p.m., the “Dream Time” out of Manteo, N.C. pulled into the scale with a white to weigh. The “Dream Time” had released four white marlin on Tuesday and headed back to the same general spot on Thursday, their second day of fishing.
The white marlin were still there and the “Dream Time” had two more releases before landing a white that the crew felt had a good chance to break the ice and get onto the leaderboard. The big white topped out at 78 pounds, sending up a loud cheer from the huge crowd of thousands of spectators at Harbour Island.
Angler John Bayliss of Manns Harbour, N.C. caught the big 78-pounder, but the crew on the “Dream Time” had to wait out one more day of fishing with all but 18 of the 288 registered boats out in the canyons looking for a challenger. When the dust settled, it was Bayliss and the “Dream Time” taking first place in the white marlin division with the one and only qualifier weighed during the tournament. The total prize money for the 78-pound white came in at just under $1.3 million.
“We had a fish show in the teasers and we made a couple of circles and this guy showed up,” said Bayliss. “We fought it for maybe a half an hour.”
Bayliss said he and the crew on the “Dream Time” had fished the tournament several times in the past and had a few near misses over the year.
“It’s a great fishing event, but the cool thing is getting a bunch of boats together from a lot of different places up and down the East Coast and really all over the world,” he said. “We had so many people calling and texting us on the way in to congratulate us, and we would have done the same thing for everybody else.”
A similar scenario played out in the blue marlin division. After Lancelotta and the “Gratitude” crew weighed their big 738-pounder early on Thursday, a second qualifier caught by angler Robert Guaurini on the “Generation” was weighed later on Thursday and came in at 564 pounds. However, the biggest challenge for the “Gratitude” came on Friday, when local boat “Rhonda’s Osprey” pulled into Harbour Island with a big blue to weigh. When the blue marlin was hoisted, the scale fluctuated up and down and at one point showed 760 pounds before settling down at 723.5-pounds.
The “Gratitude” had withstood the challenge and earned first-place prize money totaling $511,417. The “Rhonda’s Osprey” was second and earned $105,539, while the “Generation” was third and earned $70,526.
Angler Doug Mazullo on the “Constant Threat” took the top prize in the tuna division with a 183-pounder and earned $2,000 in prize money. However, angler Mike Kalajain on the “Plane Simple” took second with a 182-pounder, earning $397,863 in prize money because of added entry levels. The “Plane Simple” earned the third highest payout during the tournament. Angler Greg Melera on the “Pez Machine” took third with a 180-pounder and earned $69,210. The “Pez Machine” also took fourth place with a 178-pounder caught by angler Mark Reitter and earned another $26,884 for the vessel. The “Burn N Bills” out of Ocean City took fifth with a 170-pounder and earned $62,040.
On Wednesday, angler Eric Seigel on the crew on the “Trophy Hunter” weighed a 38-pound dolphin, good enough for first place in the division and $15,656 in prize money. Angler Bob Ambrose on the “Evidently” was second with a 34.5-pounder and earned $14,156. Thomas Kerr on the “Off the Hook” took third with a 34.5-poundeer that tied the “Evidently,” but was awarded just $2,500 because it wasn’t in across the board. Mitchell Hand on the “Judge” was fourth with a 29.5-pounder and earned $11,656, while Joseph Yakim on the “Spring Mix II” was fifth with a 25-pounder and earned $11.565. Jesse Laur on the “Nati-Boht” tied Lonni Rutt on the “Viking 62: with matching 21.5-pounders and each earned $5,828 in prize money.
In the Wahoo Division, angler Kenny Lord on the “Iceman” weighed a 66-pounder on Tuesday and earned $33,640 in prize money. Paul Gentry on the “Shadowfax” took second in the division and earned $32,640. The one and only shark weighed during the tournament was a 156-pounder caught by angler Spencer Watson on the “Edge Rider II” and earned $6,500.