OCEAN CITY- Ocean City will become the center of the sportfishing universe next week when hundreds of anglers and thousands of spectators gather in the resort for the 39th Annual White Marlin Open.
For nearly four decades, the White Marlin Open has been one of the highlights of the summer season in Ocean City. Thousands of fishing enthusiasts will cram into host Harbour Island marina each day next week for a chance to see a potential million dollar fish raised at the scale. Over 300 boats each year typically participate in the annual tournament, recognized as one of the top billfish tournaments in the world.
The tournament gets underway next week with Monday as the first of five official fishing days and participating captains and teams of anglers choose to fish three of the five days. In some years, the winning fish in the signature white marlin category is caught on the first day and hangs on throughout the week as challenger after challenger is weighed at the scale. In other years, the winning fish is brought to the scale near the end of the last day.
In either case, there is never any shortage of drama in the tournament with millions in prize money at stake in several categories including, of course, white marlin, blue marlin, tuna, dolphin, wahoo and shark. Hundreds will line the jetty at the Inlet early next Monday morning to watch the parade of boats head out to the canyons off the coast.
Thus far, the offshore season in the resort has been a memorable one with the tuna bite exceptionally strong. Just last week, a 305-pound big-eye tuna was weighed at the Ocean City Fishing Center. In the last week or so, the number of reported white marlin and blue marlin releases has spiked upward as the resort’s sportfishing fleet has started to gear up for the tournament.
A new wrinkle this year will level the playing field for some of the smaller boats participating in the White Marlin Open. A new white marlin winner-take-all category and a new tuna winner-take-all category has been added for boats 36 feet long or under.
Last year, the White Marlin Open started slow with no qualifying whites weighed on the first day, but momentum built by mid-week as the leaderboard filled up in each category. On Tuesday of White Marlin week, the crew on the “Tighten Up” broke the ice with an 86.5-pound white marlin temporarily worth $800,000. The “Tighten Up” crew held on to first place throughout the rest of the week until the “Wee Wun IV” rolled in with an 88.5-pounder to take over first place on the leaderboard.
However, the “Wee Wun IV” was not entered in all of the added entry levels and the “Tighten Up” took the tournament’s top money prize of $758,828. The “Wee Wun IV” was awarded $289,063 for its first-place white marlin, while the “Sea Note” took third with a 79.5-pounder worth $126,377.
On Thursday last year, another local boat “Restless Lady,” which had already made an appearance on the wahoo leaderboard with a 68-pounder weighed on Tuesday, rolled into Harbour Island with a blue marlin on board. The big crowd gasped as the blue marlin was hauled over the transom and up the scale. When the big fish settled, it topped out at an impressive 699.5 pounds.
After two years of thousand pound-plus blue marlin weighed during the tournament, the blue weighed by the “Restless Lady” last week was more than big enough to win most years and ultimately hung on to first-place as the only qualifying blue on the board and was worth $379,677 in the end.
In the tuna division last year, the “Pipe Dreamer” took first with a 279-pounder and earned $312,990. The “Playmate” was second and earned $58,342, while the “Last Straw” was third and took home $2,000. The “Crisdel” snuck into fourth in the tuna division with a 209-pounder and earned $22,137 with added entry levels.
In the dolphin division, which showed the most activity throughout the week, angler Gordon McNamara on the “Ranger” took first place in terms of weight with a 41.5-pounder worth $2,000, but Donald Schline on the “Reel Estate” took second with a 39.5-pounder, but first in the money with $11,930. Angler Kevin Stafford on the “Alexis” took third with a 39-pounder worth $2,000.
Angler William Bayne on the “Reel Desire” took first in the wahoo division with a 71-pounder worth $26,325, while Ocean City local Brandi Zirkel on the “Restless Lady” took second with a 68-pounder worth $3,000. Shawn Hann and the crew on the “Marli” took third with a 58-pound wahoo and earned $24,325. The one and only shark weighed during the tournament was a 107-pound mako hauled in by angler Matt Cusamano on “Canyon Lady” worth $6,500.