Dramatic End to Mid-Atlantic 500

OCEAN CITY- In what has become a three-year trend in the Mid-Atlantic $500,000 tournament, an Ocean City-base boat swept in on the last day with a big white marlin to steal the thunder, and a large chunk of change, from their New Jersey brethren.

With Hurricane Bill churning toward the mid-Atlantic coast late last week, just about all of the boats participating in the MA500 used their last fishing day on Thursday and appeared to settle most of the issues once and for all in the high-dollar tournament. Just a handful of boats still held on to a fishing day last Friday, and one, the “Topless” out of Harbour Island in Ocean City, made the best of its opportunity with a whopping 95-pound white marlin to snatch a late victory on the tournament’s last day.

It’s a scenario that has been repeated the last three years in the MA500, the Cape May, N.J.-based tournament that added Sunset Marina as a sister port at which fish could be weighed five years ago. In 2007, the Ocean City-based “Phat Mann” stunned the crowd with a tournament record 92-pound white marlin caught on the last day and the “Phat Mann” nearly repeated the feat this year with a 78-pound white marlin that briefly took the lead last Thursday.

In 2008, it was the “Reel Joy,” also out of Ocean City, taking to MA500’s top prize with a 92-pounder of its own on the last day to win the MA500. This year, with Hurricane Bill threatening to shut down the party, the tournament seemed to be over with just 11 boats fishing on Friday, but the “Topless,” with Captain Chris Martin, hauled in a new tournament-record 95-pound white marlin to win the tournament and a check for $653,375.

The tournament got started last Monday with a busy day at the scales in both Cape May and Sunset Marina with the top spots filled out in most of the divisions on the first day. After the first day, the “Gina Marie” stood atop the leaderboard in the white marlin category with a 75-pounder, while the “Uncle T” was in second with a 74-pound white and two boats, the “Sun Runner” and the “Sea Mistress,” tied for third with matching 71-pounders.

Also on Monday, the “Cookie II” weighed a 453-pound blue marlin at Cape May that would hold up all week. The “Sea Hag” was on top of the tuna division with a 69-pounder while the “Shark Byte” weighed a pair of 67-pounders. The “Triple Crown” was in first in the dolphin division with a 34-pounder, while the “Southern Comfort” was on top of the wahoo division with a 66-pounder.

Nothing changed dramatically on Tuesday, but Wednesday brought a few changes to the leaderboard. The “Viking 68” weighed a 77-pound white marlin in Cape May on Wednesday to take over the top spot in the high-dollar division, but its moment in the spotlight was just that as everything changed on Thursday.

The “Phat Mann” was first at the scale at Sunset Marina on Thursday and weighed a 78-pounder to take over the top spot. However, the “Top Notch” was next at the scale in Cape May and hung a nice 81-pounder to topple the “Phat Mann” from the top spot in the white marlin division. Also on Thursday, the “Sea Mistress” also weighed a 78-pound white to earn a share of second place.

However, when it was revealed the 81-pounder caught on the “Top Notch” had ice in its throat after the fish had been weighed, the captain and crew graciously asked that the fish be removed from contention to avoid any controversy or hints at foul play. As a result, the “Phat Mann” and the “Sea Mistress,” with their matching 78-pounders, moved into a tie for first place. With just 11 boats going out on Friday and the seas already churning up from the storm, it appeared the tournament was a done deal before the “Topless” rolled in to Sunset Marina and stunned everyone with a whopping 95-pound white marlin caught by angler and local businessman Scott “Spunky” Lathroum to take the top prize on the last day.

In the end, the “Topless” took the white marlin division and a check for $653,375, while the “Phat Mann” and the “Sea Mistress” shared second with matching 78-pounders and were awarded $106,415 each. The “Cookie II” weighed the only qualifying blue marlin, a 453-pounder caught on Day One, and was awarded $381,665.

In the tuna division, the “Sea Hag” and the Ocean City-based “Predator” tied for first place with 69-pounders, but the “Sea Hag” was awarded $173,600 and the “Predator” received $55,000 because of added entry levels. Three boats, the “Beast,” the “April Fool,” and the “Shark Byte” all tied for third in the tuna division with 67-pounders.

The “Joanna” out of New Jersey took the top prize in the wahoo division with a new tournament record 97-pounder and was awarded $10,000 in prize money, while the “Foray” took top honors in the dolphin division with a 37-pounder and was also awarded $10,000.