27th Ocean City Tuna Tournament Set For Next Week

OCEAN CITY- The 27th Annual Ocean City Tuna Tournament returns next week with dozens of boats and hundreds of anglers expected to descend 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 over the last few weeks with Ocean City’s sportfishing fleet returning to the docks each day with flags flying high and fish boxes full of tuna, setting up what should be a memorable 2014 Ocean City Fishing Tournament. The event gets started next Thursday with a captain’s meeting and late registration under the tent at the host Ocean City Fishing Center before the first of three fishing days next Friday, July 11.

The annual Ocean City Tuna Tournament is one of the highlights of the summer offshore tournament seasons each year, second only perhaps to the White Marlin Open in terms of prize money awarded and anglers participating. Thousands of spectators will cram into the Ocean City Fishing Center over the course of the four-day event, which has become a celebration of fishing, food, drinks, live entertainment and, of course, the daily weigh-ins at the scale.

From modest beginnings in 1988 when just 38 boats competed for $9,000 in prize money, the tuna tournament has grown by leaps and bounds over the last two decades plus. Last year, 79 boats competed for hundreds of thousands of dollars in several categories. While the Ocean City Tuna Tournament might lack the prestige and glamour of the White Marlin Open, it certainly does not lack excitement and suspense.

Last year’s tuna tournament set the bar high and will be tough to top. Epic is the only word to describe last year’s Ocean City Tuna Tournament, which saw an historic run of big-eyes on Day One last Friday including the eventual winner, a 253-pounder caught by the crew on the “No Quarter.”

While heavy rain pounded the resort area throughout much of the day last Friday, the action off the coast on the first day of the 26th Annual Ocean City Tuna Tournament was sizzling hot. When the scales opened for business on Friday afternoon, one big-eye tuna after another was unloaded, ratcheting up the stakes and the excitement level for the huge crowd that had gathered at the host Ocean City Fishing Center.

A total of 29 big-eye tuna were weighed in at the scale on Friday last year, and while there has certainly been a handful of big-eyes to win the tournament in the past, no one who had been around the event over the last two decades-plus could ever remember a better single day. Words like “epic” and “unbelievable” were tossed around throughout the weekend by old timers and veterans who have seen their fair share of tuna unloaded on the docks.

Angler Spencer Bradley on the “Goin In Deep” set the bar early with a 237-pound big-eye that would have been large enough to win the heaviest fish category in most years. In 2012, a 257-pound big-eye took the tournament’s top prize, while a 259-pounder won it all in 2011, but before that, one would have to look all the way back to 1993 for a 200-pound plus winner.

Fame and fortune were fleeting for Bradley and the “Goin In Deep” crew however. Angler Tom Dickerson on the “Stress Reel-ief” nudged past the “Goin In Deep” crew with a 238-pound big-eye, touching off huge cheers from the big crowd. However, the best was yet to come. Right around dusk, angler Bill Schatzman and the crew on the “No Quarter” with Captain Kyle Peet arrived at the scale and unloaded a 253-pound big-eye to lead into first place at the close of Day One.

After the epic day on Friday, the tournament action simmered somewhat on Saturday and Sunday, but there were still quite a few potential challengers weighed as the leaderboard filled out in nearly every category. But the damage had been done on Friday with one of the most memorable days in tournament history.

When the dust settled, Schatzman and the crew on the “No Quarter” held on for first place in the Single Largest Tuna category with its 253-pound big-eye and were awarded $243,917 in prize money. The “Stress Reel-ief” crew finished in second and earned $34,057 in prize money, while the “Goin In Deep” took third and earned $22,705.

Largely because of the huge run on big-eyes, the Heaviest Stringer Weight category was no less impressive. The crew on the “Reel Chaos” took first place with 687 total pounds, which was the fourth heaviest winning stringer in tournament history. In 2002, a total stringer of 1,010 pounds took the tournament’s top prize.

The “Reel Chaos” crew took first place and earned $74,357. The crew on the “Warrior” took second with 605 total pounds and earned $39,052, while the crew on the “Grande Pez” took third with 503 total pounds and earned $22,705. No qualifying dolphin were weighed during the three-day tournament.

The Top Junior Angler Award went to Dominic Dipiero on the “Let It Ride” with a 201-pounder worth $1,000. Dante Caruso on the “Pipe Dreamer” took second with a 162-pounder and was awarded $500. Alex Grapes on the “Tuna Dog” was third with a 111-pounder and earned $250. The Top Lady Angler Award went to Samantha Freas on the “Reel Chaos” with a 154-pounder and earned $1,500. J.L.Cropper on the “Myra HT” was second with an 80-pounder, while Debbie McCann on the “Sea Slammer” was third with a 49-pounder and each were awarded prizes.

The award for the single largest tuna on a boat under 40 feet long went to Tom Dickerson and the crew on the “Stress Reel-ief” and added $3,645 in prize money to their earnings. The award for the heaviest stringer weight for a boat under 40 feet long went to the crew on the “Four Play” with 399 pounds also worth $3,645.