25th OC Tuna Tournament Underway

OCEAN CITY- In the midst of one of the hottest tuna bites in recent memory, the 25th Annual Ocean City Tuna Tournament got underway this week with dozens of boats and hundreds of anglers descending on the resort area for a three-day search for the burly behemoths in the canyons off the coast.

The tuna bite has been red hot thus far this season with Ocean City’s sportfishing fleet returning to the docks nearly every single day with flags flying high and fish boxes full of tuna, setting up would should be a memorable 2012 Ocean City Tuna Tournament. The story last weekend was the quantity and quality of the big-eye tuna bite with several boats returning to the Ocean City Fishing Center, which is hosting the Ocean City Tuna Tournament, with 200-plus pounders.

For about an hour last Saturday afternoon, boat after boat pulled up to the scale at the Fishing Center and unloaded a huge big-eye tuna, or two in some cases. The largest was a 226-pounder weighed by Captain Dale Lisi and the crew on the “Foolish Pleasures,” which came after a few other 200-plus pound big-eyes hit the dock. In addition, many of the boats weighed dozens of yellowfin and bluefin tuna last weekend, setting the stage for what could be one of the best tuna tournaments ever.

The event got underway yesterday with a captain’s meeting and late registration at the host Ocean City Fishing Center in West Ocean City before the first of three fishing days today. Captains and teams of anglers must choose to fish two of the three days from Friday to Sunday.

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 and fishing enthusiasts will cram into the Ocean City Fishing Center for the four-day event, which has become a celebration of fishing, food, 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 was doled out to the winners, the Ocean City Tuna Tournament has grown by leaps and bounds over the last two-plus decades. 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. Last year, much of the suspense ended early when the crew of the “Crush Em” all but swept the tournament’s two signature divisions on the very first day.

The “Crush Em” crew rolled in shortly after 4 p.m. on Friday, not long after the scale opened on Day One, and weighed a 259-pounder. The big crowd around the marina cheered as the 259-pound tuna was raised on the scale, which set the bar almost impossibly high right from the start. However, the “Crush Em” crew wasn’t finished.

The crew on board the “Crush Em” then proceeded to unload a stringer of tuna that totaled a remarkable 590 pounds when the scale settled. The 594-pound stringer topped the existing tournament record by as many as 100 pounds.

Per tournament rules, a single boat cannot win both the heaviest single tuna category and the heaviest stringer weight category, so the “Crush Em” crew ultimately had to decide which category to claim. However, it was only Friday and there were still two more days of fishing left, so it was a decision that would have to wait.

In the end, the “Crush Em” crew chose to heaviest single tuna category and was awarded $243,797 in prize money. The “First & More” took second with a 155-pounder and earned $12,849, while the “Myra HT” took third with a 128-pounder worth $6.601.

The crew aboard the “Grand Pez” took first in the heaviest stringer weight category with a group of big tuna weighing 390 pounds and was awarded $73,540 in prize money. The “Espadon” was second with a 376-pound stringer and earned $41,356, while the “Rhonda’s Osprey” took third in the category with a 376-pound string and was awarded $24,286 in prize money.

Participating boats can get lines in the water on each of the three fishing days at 7:30 a.m. and the tackle must be out of the water each day by 3 p.m. Crowds start forming around the scale at the Ocean City Fishing Center on each of the three days as the suspense begins to mount. The scale closes each day at 7:30 p.m., with the exception of the last day of fishing, when it closes at 7 p.m. The awards are handed out shortly after the scales close at the end of the tournament on Sunday.

As the name suggests, the event is largely about tuna, but there will also be prize money awarded this weekend 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.