2009 WMO One for the Record Books

OCEAN CITY- When White Marlin Open organizers chose the ubiquitous “Come See Big Fish” phrase for their promotional materials for the 2009 tournament, they likely didn’t realize just how prophetic the words would be as the largest white marlin caught in the tournament in 29 years took the event’s top prize and a 1,000-pound plus blue marlin toppled a state record that had stood for 20 years.

The tournament got off to a relatively slow start last Monday with just one qualifier on the board in the prestigious white marlin category. Typically, just about all of the boats registered in the tournament fish on Monday of Marlin Week, but this year, just a little over half of the fleet ventured out and while two thirds of the final tuna leader board was filled out on Day One, there was little else of consequence on the 2009 tournament’s first day.

At the end of the day on Monday, veteran WMO angler Dan Deer and the crew aboard the “True Grit” sat atop the leader board in the white marlin division with a nice 67.5-pounder temporarily worth $1.3 million. His Day One white marlin did not hold up very long this year as everything changed dramatically on Tuesday of Marlin Week, but he did make a return trip to the scale on Day Two with another qualifying white marlin, this time a 70.5-pounder that briefly improved his chances.

On Tuesday, the whole tenor of the tournament changed in one dramatic moment 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 in 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-pound white marlin caught on Tuesday even more impressive were the adverse conditions the angler and crew had to deal with to the 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 result, 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-pound eventual winner was finally boated and headed to the scale at Harbour Island.

Not long after Healey and the “Orion” weighed their 93.5-pound white marlin on Tuesday, local Captain Terry Layton and the crew aboard 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.

With the “Orion” holding onto first with a 93.5-pounder, and the “Nontypical” sitting in second with its 83-pounder, the bar was set fairly high in the tournament’s high-dollar division early on Tuesday. Deer and the “True Grit” crew weighed a 70.5-pounder on Tuesday to cozy into third place in the division, but were bounced further down the leader board a short time later when angler Ed Amos and the crew aboard the “Drillin & Billin” came in with a 72-pound white that took over third place at the close of business on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, however, angler Mark Donohue and the crew aboard the “Miss Annie” shook things up somewhat with an 80.5-pound white that took over third place in the division. Things remained unchanged for the most part in the white marlin division until Friday, when angler Drew Goodwin and the crew aboard the “Longfin” gave everybody a scare with a fat 85-pound white that took over second place.

When the dust settled, it was Healey and the “Orion” crew taking first in the white marlin division with the whopping 93.5-pounder worth $903,442. Goodwin and the “Longfin” crew took second place with their 85-pounder and were awarded $47,446. Layton and the “Nontypical” finished in third in terms of weight, but second in terms of prize money by virtue of being in all of the added entry levels and were awarded $80,080. The 80.5-pound white caught by Donohue and the “Miss Annie” crew finished fourth overall in the division, but took home $32,854 in prize money.

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. The grander caught by Farris and the “No Problem” all but eliminated any drama in the blue marlin division by mid-week, but there was still second- and third-place spots open on the leader board in the category.

Late Thursday night, well after the usual 9 p.m. deadline at the scale, the “Olivia Grace” out of Bear, Del., rolled into the marina at Harbour Island with two blue marlin to weigh. The first fell a little short of the minimum requirements, but the second, caught by angler Kyle McLaughlin, topped out at 530.5 pounds to fill in the second-place spot. Now, in many years, the 530.5-pounder would have been big enough to win the WMO’s blue marlin division, but this year, it was precisely half the size of the 1,062-pound blue caught by the “No Problem.”

No other qualifying blues were weighed on Friday and Farris and the “No Problem” crew were awarded $454,999 in prize money. McLaughlin and the “Olivia Grace” took second with their 530.5-pounder and were awarded $125,055.

The top spots in the tuna category filled up quickly on Day One and the early frontrunners stood up practically all week. Angler Doug Salter on the “Shadowfax” weighed a 249-pound tuna on Monday to take over the top spot on the leaderboard, a spot it would not relinquish all week. Angler Ed Gross on the “Foolish Pleasures” weighed a 207.5-pounder on Monday to take over second place in the division, while angler John Lavell on the “Risky Business” caught a 152.5-pounder also on Monday to fill in the third spot.

The division remained unchanged all week as the top three held onto their positions, although several big tuna were weighed each day. Finally, on Friday, angler Darrell Drenner and the crew aboard the “Drillin & Billin,” which had made a brief appearance on the white marlin leader board earlier in the week, were the first at the scale on Friday and weighed a 234-pound tuna to leapfrog into second place in the division.

When all was said and done, it was Salter and the “Shadowfax” taking first-place in the division and $179,581. Drenner and the “Drillin & Billin” crew took second and were awarded $66,685, while Gross and the “Foolish Pleasures” crew finished third and took home $27,474.

In the dolphin division, angler Gerard Wittstadt on the local boat “Two Days” set the tone early with a 37-pounder on Monday to take over first-place. On Wednesday, however, Ronald Bennett and the crew aboard the “Crush-Em” nudged into the lead with a 37.5-pounder to take over the top spot. Also on Wednesday, Jake Robinson on the “Callie Girl” also weighed a 34-pound dolphin to round out the leader board in the division.

In the end, it was Bennett and the “Crush-Em” crew taking first with a 37.5-pounder worth $16,572. Wittstadt and the “Two Days” crew took second and were awarded $15,572, while Robinson and the “Callie Girl” crew took third and earned $2,000. Two other anglers and boats back-doored into prize money in the dolphin division thanks to winning dailies and were awarded a significant chunk of change. The “Fish Whistle,” which won the white marlin division last year, and the “Silly Money” were each awarded $12,572 in prize money in the dolphin division.

Friday proved to be the big day in the wahoo division with the first- and second-place fish weighed on the last day of the tournament. Angler Tommy Yoviene on the “Magic Moment” was the first on the board with a 42.5-pound wahoo weighed on Wednesday. On Friday, however, angler John Green on the “Wave Dancer” weighed a 47-pounder to take over the top spot and angler Joseph Kadjeski III on the “Fish’n Pols” moved into second with a 43.5-pounder. The “Wave Dancer” was first in terms of weight and was awarded $2,000. The “Fish’n Pols” took second in terms of weight, but won the division’s top monetary prize at $28,145 because of added entry levels. Similarly, the “Magic Moment” was third in terms of weight, but second in terms of prize money at $27,145.

In the shark division, angler Jamie Gill on the “Lisa” was first with a 254-pounder and was awarded $4,500, while Gunnar Zorn III on the “Gundawg” took second with a 108-pounder and was awarded $3,500.