Leaderboard Shaken Up In White Marlin Open

OCEAN CITY – Minutes after the scale opened for day four of the 34th Annual White Marlin Open around 4 p.m. yesterday, a new leader emerged and a new fortune was possibly won, but hundreds of boats still out in the canyons off the coast last night and about 150 more still fishing today, it remains to be seen if sport fishing’s newest millionaire will still be smiling at the close of the event tonight.

Fortunes are often won or lost in an instant in the White Marlin Open as one boat after another lines up at the scale at the host Harbour Island Marina. Angler John Frankos, fishing aboard the “Rebel” out of Nags Head, N.C. brought the first fish to the marina when the scale opened for business late yesterday afternoon and weighed a whopping 83-pounder to take over the top spot on the leader board in the tournament’s glamour division.

The 83-pounder was worth $1,394,480 as of press time late yesterday, but with 359 boats yet to weigh in on Thursday and another 140 or so with a fishing day left today, anything could have or will happen. The buzz around the dock late yesterday is that the crew aboard the “Rebel” almost released the 83-pound first-place white marlin because of the relative ease with which it was first brought to the boat.

However, when the captain and crew got a first glimpse of the burly 83-pounder, they knew it was the potential winning fish worth nearly $1.4 million and let it run again, only to bring it back to the boat in about 40 minutes. While heavier white marlins have won the tournament in the past, a fish the size of the one weighed late yesterday has never been displaced this late in the game, according to event organizers.

Frankos and the crew on the “Rebel” displaced angler Craig Ziegler and the crew aboard the “Intrinsic,” which weighed a 71.5-pounder early on Monday, the first day of fishing, and held on to the top spot until the scales opened at 4 p.m. yesterday. The “Intrinsic” stood to win the $1.4 million for three days until the “Rebel” weighed its 83-pounder first thing Thursday afternoon. The newest leader created a domino effect on the leader board with the “Intrinsic” dropping into second-place and a potential $137,427 payday.

Angler Gary McCullay and the crew aboard the “Triple Crown,” which had held onto the second-place spot on the leader board since Monday with a 70-pound white marlin, saw its fortunes take a turn for the worse yesterday when it dropped into third place in the division and a $90,784 payday. The “Canyon Express,” which won the tournament in 2004, nudged into third place with a 66-pound white marlin weighed on Wednesday, but dropped off the leader board when the “Rebel” rolled into the scale late yesterday.

The blue marlin division created its own share of drama through mid-week with a pair of big fish weighed on Monday and Tuesday. The first was a 567-pounder caught by angler Bob Belansen on a boat fittingly called “Beast” on Monday. The big blue quickly took the top spot in the standings and was worth an estimated $846,000 when the scales closed on Monday.

On Tuesday, local angler Bill Mathews, fishing aboard the “Gale Force,” hauled in a 590-pound blue marlin that knocked the “Beast” from the top spot in terms of weight but did not topple Belansen and the “Beast” from the top money spot because of added entry levels. Going into yesterday, Belansen and the “Beast” were looking at over $554,000 in prize money while Mathews and the “Gale Force” stood to win almost $292,000.

Captains and teams of anglers must decide which entry levels they choose to enter with the prize money awarded in direct relation to the money put into to the tournament up front. As a result, the heaviest fish is not always the top money winner. The tuna division in this year’s White Marlin Open has provided a perfect example of that anomaly thus far.

Going into yesterday, a whopping 259-pound tuna caught by angler Jonathan Stallings aboard the “Wet Floors” was in first place in the division but was worth only $2,000. Similarly, the second-place tuna, a 207-pounder caught by angler Greg Ryan on the “Trouble Maker” was worth $3,000 as of yesterday.

However, the big money in the tuna division appeared to be heading to the third-, fourth- and fifth place fish on the leader board as of late yesterday. For example, a 191-pound tuna caught by angler Rob Grodzicki on the “Ursula Priscilla” was worth over $242,000, while the fourth-place tuna- a 184-pounder caught by angler Steve Boyle on the “Miss Andrea”-was worth over $94,000 and the fifth-place 160-pound tuna caught by Bill Schatzman on the “Rhonda’s Osprey” was worth over $36,000.

In the wahoo division as of late yesterday, Ocean City’s own Stephen Lewis, fishing aboard the “M.R. Ducks,” held the top spot with a 83-pounder worth $4,000, while angler Paul Crampton, fishing aboard the “Marlin Magic,” was in second with a 74-pounder worth $3,000 and angler Kevin Mundy was in third with a 66-pounder worth $2,000.

In the other two divisions, angler Paul Sciacca, fishing aboard the “Blinky III,” was in first place with the lone dolphin weighed thus far- a 23-pounder worth $6,500. Angler Michael Brennan, fishing aboard the “Smoker,” sat all alone atop the leader board in the shark division with a 111-pound mako worth $6,500.