OCEAN CITY – This week’s 36th Annual White Marlin Open has lived up to all the hype and then some with a whopping 93.5-pound white caught on Tuesday still sitting atop the leader board as of late yesterday with a local challenger, who has been white-hot all summer, sitting in second, not to mention a whopping 1,062-pound blue marlin caught on Wednesday that set a new state and tournament record.
The tournament got underway in earnest on Monday with a little more than half of the 298 registered boats heading out the canyons off the coast for the first official day of fishing. Typically, just about all of the registered boats fish on Monday of marlin week and as a result, Day One has produced more than its share of winners over the years, but the action at the scales on Monday this week only foreshadowed what was yet to come.
At the end of the day on Monday, veteran angler Dan Deer and the crew aboard the “True Grit” sat atop the leader board in the prestigious white marlin category with a nice 67.5-pounder worth, at the time, an estimated $1.3 million. Deer is no stranger to the White Marlin Open, having fished the tournament for 22 years. He was been to the scales on several occasions over the years and was named angler of the year in the 1989 tournament, and the “True Grit” was named boat of the year in 1989, a year that would have greater meaning later in the week.
Deer’s 67.5-pound white was the only qualifier on the board after Monday, and its relatively small size meant the tournament was still wide open for four days to go. Everything changed in one dramatic moment on Tuesday, however, when angler Sean Healey and the crew on the “Orion” out of Palm Beach, Fla., rolled into the scale at Harbour Island with an impressive 93.5-pound white marlin on the boat.
Healey’s 93.5-pounder was the largest white raised at the scale in 29 years. Angler Steve Bass caught a 99-pound white back in 1980 that still holds the tournament record. What made Healey’s 93.5-pounder even more impressive were the adverse conditions the angler and crew had to deal with to get the tournament leader in the boat.
As soon as the fish was hooked, the transmission on the “Orion” died and the vessel was stuck in forward, meaning it could only circle in wide loops. As a consequence, Healey had to walk around the boat while fighting the fish as it jumped in and out of the water. After about an hour, the 93.5-pounder was finally boated, but it had to be brought to the scale at Harbour Island by boat.
Now, an amateur angler catching the potential White Marlin Open winning fish on a disabled boat is quite a story and the stuff tournament folklore is made of, but there were murmurs around the fishing community all week about the validity of the tale. Tournament officials said there are procedures to follow if someone suspects foul play.
“How we handle this is, number one, if they have any proof to substantiate their claims, they need to file a formal protest with the White Marlin Open,” said tournament co-director Madelyne Motsko Phillips. “The procedure is laid out in our brochure and online on how to do that. Nobody ever does that because it’s always a rumor. The second thing is they have to take a polygraph test. Essentially, that’s our way of making sure everything is on the up and up. What we always tell anybody that calls is to go ahead and get your information together and file a formal protest.”
Not long after Healey and the “Orion” crew weighed their 93.5-pound white marlin on Tuesday, angler Terry Layton and the crew on the “Nontypical” came calling with an impressive white marlin of their own. When the big white was hoisted up the scale, it topped out at 83 pounds, which was large enough to win the tournament in most years including last year.
The big white continued an incredible hot streak for the local boat “Nontypical” this year. Layton caught the first white marlin of the year back in early June and followed that up by winning the Mako Mania tournament and the Ocean City Shark Tournament, the latter coming on a new state record 876-pound mako caught by Captain Jim Hughes.
With “Orion” holding onto first with a 93.5-pounder and the “Nontypical” sitting in second with an 83-pound white, Dan Deer and the “True Grit” had been bounced down the leader board to third place on Tuesday. However, Deer and the “True Grit” crew improved their situation with a 70.5-pound white marlin weighed not longer after the “Nontypical” pulled away from the scale on Tuesday.
However, angler Ed Amos and the “Drillin & Billin” crew quickly bounced Deer and the “True Grit” from the money positions a short time later with a 72-pound white that cozied into third-place at the close of business on Tuesday. On Wednesday, however, angler Mark Donohue and the crew on the “Miss Annie” weighed an 80.5-pound white that took over third place in the division. As of late yesterday, the “Orion” was sitting in the top spot with a 93.5-pound white worth an estimated $860,0000, while the “Nontypical” sat in second with an 83-pounder worth $90,000 and the “Miss Annie” was in third with its 80.5-pounder worth $60,000.
While the signature white marlin category dominated the action around the marina early in the week, and rightly so, the blue marlin division was largely inconsequential for the first two days with just a couple of non-qualifiers brought to the scale. Everything changed in a hurry on Wednesday, however, when angler Robert Farris and the crew aboard the “No Problem” rolled into the marina with a 1,000-pound plus blue marlin on board.
When the beast was hoisted on the scale, it topped out at a remarkable 1,062-pounds, setting a new state and tournament record that had stood for 20 years. Dr. Jim Daniel on the “Memory Maker” caught a 942-pound blue marlin during the tournament back in 1989 and the record stood until Wednesday night. As of late yesterday, the record blue was still the only qualifier on the board and stood to win around $550,000.
The top spots in the tuna category filled up quickly on Monday and the early frontrunners stood up all week. Angler Doug Salter on the “Shadowfax” weighed a 249-pound tuna on Monday to take over the top spot and still hung on as of late yesterday. Angler Ed Gross on the “Foolish Pleasures” weighed a 207.5-pound tuna on Monday to settle into second place, while John Lavell on the “Risky Business” caught a 152.5-pounder also on Tuesday to take over third place. The top three tuna took on all comers over the next two days, but still held on to the top spots on the leader board. As of late yesterday, the “Shadowfax” was in first place and stood to earn $170,000, while the “Foolish Pleasures” was in second at $61,000 and the “Risky Business” was in third at $25,000.
In the dolphin division, local boat “Two Days” and angler Gerard Wittstadter took landed in first place on Monday with a 37-pounder and held on to the top spot through Tuesday before everything changed on Wednesday. Angler Ronald Bennett on the “Crush Em” nudged past the “Two Days” on Wednesday with a 37.5-pound dolphin, while angler Jake Robinson on the “Callie Girl” took over third with a 34-pound dolphin.
As of late yesterday, angler Tommy Yoviene on the “Magic Moment” caught and weighed the only qualifying wahoo thus far in the tournament, a 42.5-pounder $56,000 as of late yesterday. Angler Jamie Gill on the “Lisa” held onto the top spot in the shark division late yesterday with a 254-pounder worth $4,500, while Gunnar Zorn on the “Gundawg” held onto second place with a 108-pounder currently worth $3,500.