OCEAN CITY- The 39th Annual White Marlin Open wrapped up last Friday as one of the most unusual tournaments in recent memory with just a single fish, a 72-pound white marlin caught on Wednesday of Marlin Week by local angler Bill Woody and the crew on the “Blew Bayou” taking home the top prize, over $1.4 million.
After several years of big, fat whites dueling it out on the leaderboard, and a couple of grander blue marlin stunning the crowd at Harbour Island, Woody’s 72-pound white marlin was the only qualifier weighed over the course of five-day tournament, essentially turned into a three-day event because of book-end bad fishing days on either end of the week.
The 72-pounder, weighed just about smack dab in the middle of the whirlwind three days when just about all of the 253 registered boats used their fishing days, help up the rest of the week and finished as the only qualifier in the white marlin category. When a couple of blue marlin weighed came up just short of the 500-pound minimum, that category also remained wide open. As a result, Woody and the crew on the “Blew Bayou” were awarded the first, second, and third-place white marlin money and the blue marlin money, resulting in a payoff of over $1.4 million.
“What an amazing tournament,” said Woody this week. “To think that fish would hold up is pretty incredible. In the days after we weighed it, I was reading about the history and I was thinking how can it possibly happen?”
A look at the tournament archives reveals it probably shouldn’t have or couldn’t have happened. Woody’s 72-pound white was the smallest WMO winner since 2000, when a 71-pounder won the tournament. The only other time since that the winning white didn’t crack the 80-pound mark was 2005 when a 78.5-pounder won it all.
There were two years in 1986 and 1987 when no qualifying whites were weighed. In the inaugural event in 1974, a 68.5-pound white took the top prize in an era before the minimum qualifying size was set at 70 pounds. By comparison, the last three winners in the white marlin division went 88.5 pounds, 97.5 pounds and 93.5 pounds.
Nonetheless, despite what history and logic would appear to dictate, fishing remains fickle and sometimes a single lightning strike makes all the difference. For Woody, that lightning strike came in what might be his last WMO after years of competing in the event.
“My goal was to fish the White Marlin Open one more time and this was the one,” he said. “Wow, what a one to go out on.”
Like all but 10 of the 253 boats registered, the “Blew Bayou” took a lay day on Monday and started out on Tuesday before a boat issue forced them to take that day off as well. Finally out in the canyons on Wednesday after two days at port, the “Blew Bayou” crew, with Captain Tom Harris of Harris Marine, mates Allen Scibal and Thomas Bennett, Woody, angler Dave Rivello and some family and friends, found themselves in the action fairly early. Around 11:30 a.m., the action really accelerated.
“We had two fish up at one time,” said Woody. “I was fighting my fish in one corner and Dave [Rivello] was fighting his in another corner. At that point, my fish went south and Dave’s went north. Mine was spooling fast and I when I looked down, I saw I was down to yellow mono and had about eight loops left.”
After pulling in their spread and clearing the cockpit, the two anglers continued to fight their whites and a decision was made early to go after Rivello’s. Circumstances forced a change and the focus soon turned to Woody’s big white.
“The fished jumped several times and I was getting excited because I saw it and knew it was a special fish,” he said. “When I got a close look at it for the first time at the boat, I knew it was long enough and it appeared to carry its weight well all the way down to the tail.”
Certain they had a qualifier, a decision was made to gaff the fish and get it on board. Hours later, the “Blew Bayou” was at the scale at Harbor Island and the drama unfolded.
“I was up in the tower and I wasn’t watching the scale,” said Woody. “I looked around and caught a glimpse of my oldest daughter and at first she was frowning but someone nudged her and told her the bill wasn’t off the dock yet. I stayed focused on her and not the scale, and when I saw her big brown eyes light up, I knew then we had a qualifier.”
Woody and the “Blew Bayou” crew fished on Thursday to no avail and again on Friday, despite the conditions and the fact just 29 boats went out. For Woody and the crew, fishing Friday was as much an escape from the tension of waiting then it was about fishing. When the scales closed on Friday night and the 72-pounder became the official winner, it was time to celebrate and relax.
“I just feel so blessed for myself and my family, but also for this young captain and crew,” he said. “These young guys do a remarkable job and their just starting out in their careers, so this is just so big for them in so many ways.”
While a single white marlin took home all of the prize money in the division, along with the blue marlin division money, the tuna division was perhaps the most active during the 2012 WMO. On Tuesday, angler Dave Dunton on the “Canyon Runner” posted a 236-pound big-eye to take over the top spot in the category. Just a day later, however, angler Norman Pulliam on the “Right Hook” hauled in a 238-pound big-eye to nudge past the “Canyon Runner” into first-place. When the dust settled, it was Pulliam and the “Right Hook” taking first place with a 238-pounder worth 4324,516. Dunton and the “Canyon Runner” crew took second with a 236-pound big-eye worth $253,825, and Christian Manetta and the crew on the “Tra Sea Ann” took third with a 229-pound big-eye worth $24,758.
In a new wrinkle this year added to level the playing field for some of the smaller boats in the tournament, a winner-take-all category was added for white marlin and tuna for boats 36-feet long or under. A local boat with past ties to the WMO, the “Fish Whistle,” which won the white marlin category in 2008, weighed a 58.5-pound tuna last Thursday to win $55,460.
In the Dolphin Division, it was angler Arthur Kontos on the “Let It Ride” taking first-place with a 33-pounder worth $20,648. Brian Gill on the “Krazy Salts” took second with a 27.5-pound dolphin worth $11,041. Doug Ortlip and the “Got Game” crew shared second with a 27.5-pounder and earned $9,791, while Chad Baker and “The Natural” crew took fourth with a 27-pounder, but earned $16,215 due to added entry levels.
While the “Canyon Runner” got nudged into second place in the tuna division, it did hold on to first place in the wahoo division with a 70.5-pounder worth $28,756. Pete Katsarelis and the crew on the “Amarula Sun” took second with a 66.5-pounder and earned $3,433, while Franklin Bowers on the “Sniper” took third, but won $26,756 because of added entry levels.
One of the big stories in the 2012 WMO came in the shark division, where a potential Maryland state record for a scalloped hammerhead was weighed on Thursday. Angler Scott Cusick fishing on the “Milling Around” weighed a 266.5-pound scalloped hammerhead on Thursday, taking over the top spot in the tournament’s shark division.
The existing scalloped hammerhead state record was also caught during the White Marlin Open during the 2009 event. Angler Jamie Gill fishing aboard the “Lisa” caught a 254-pound scalloped hammerhead on August 5, 2009 during the White Marlin Open, which is the current state record. Cusick’s 266.5-pounder eclipses that mark, but there are protocols and procedures to be followed before a new state record is confirmed.
The 266.5-pound scalloped hammerhead took the top prize in the shark division and earned $5,150. Angler Craig Dengler on the “Longfin” took second with a 126.5-pounder and earned $4,150.