OCEAN CITY- The 21st Annual Ocean City Tuna Tournament returns next week when hundreds of boats and thousands of anglers descend on the resort area for a three-day search for the burly behemoths in the canyons off the coast of the resort.
Tuna of all shapes, sizes and species have arrived in the waters off Ocean City in the last few weeks, jumpstarting the summer offshore season and setting the tone for what could be a memorable tournament. The event gets underway next week with a captain’s meeting and late registration next Thursday before the first of three fishing days next Friday, July 11.
The annual Ocean City Tuna Tournament is one of the highlights of the summer offshore tournament season each year, second only perhaps to the White Marlin Open in terms of prize money awarded and the number of boats and anglers participating. Thousands of spectators will cram into the Ocean City Fishing Center for the four-day event, which has become a celebration of fishing, food, live music and, of course, the daily weigh-ins at the scale.
From modest beginnings in 1988, when just 38 boats participated and a mere $9,000 in prize money was doled out to the winners, the Ocean City Tuna Tournament has grown by leaps and bounds over the last two decades. For example, last year 139 boats chugged out to the canyons off the coast to vie for the roughly $689,000 in prize money awarded.
While the Tuna Tournament might lack the prestige and glamour of the White Marlin Open set for next month in Ocean City, it does not lack excitement and suspense. It can be said the Tuna Tournament is the “beast” to the White Marlin Open’s “beauty.” Legend has it Captain Jim Whaley, back in the 1950s, would ask his charter customers if they were interested in fishing for beauty or beast, referring to marlin or tuna.
At stake again this year in the 21st Annual Ocean City Tuna Tournament are hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money in several categories. As the name suggests, the event is largely about tuna, but there will also be prize money awarded in several other categories including billfish and dolphin, for example. The tuna tournament will award cash prizes in two major categories: the largest single fish brought to the scale at the Ocean City Fishing Center; and the most total pounds caught over the three fishing days.
Captains must choose to fish two of the three scheduled fishing days, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and the suspense builds as the leaderboard changes with each passing day and sometimes each passing hour. Last year, for example, the suspense built all weekend as the teams that weighed big fish early in the tournament watched as boat after boat unloaded their catches at the scales.
When the drama ended, a mere single pound separated first place from second place in the heaviest tuna division resulting in a difference in cash payout of $351,147 for first place and $64,540 for second place. Ocean City’s own “Press Time,” with Captain Luke Blume, took first in heaviest tuna category with a 184-pounder caught by angler Ted D’Anna worth $351,197. The “Press Time” just edged the “Let it Ride,” which hung a 183-pounder. Twelve-year-old Charlie Gravina was the angler who caught the 183-pound second place tuna on the “Let it Ride” and was named Top Junior Angler in the tournament. The second-place single largest tuna caught on the “Let it Ride” was worth $66,040. Third-place in the heaviest single tuna category and a check for $37,582 went to the “Cyntinory” and local angler Terry Layton.
The Heaviest Total Weight category also produced its share of drama with the crew aboard the “Instigator” taking first place with 790 total pounds and earned a check for $134,365. Second-place in the Heaviest Total Weight category went to the crew aboard the “Rhonda’s Osprey,” which finished with 510 total pounds after weighing two big tuna that came in around 290 pounds late Sunday.
The team on the “Rhonda’s Osprey,” which included several local business owners, earned over $56,000 for their second-place finish. Coming in third in the heaviest total weight division was the crew aboard the “Longfin” with 477 pounds, good enough for an $11,300 pay day.