OCEAN CITY- The 29th Annual Ocean City Tuna Tournament is underway 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 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 2016 Ocean City Fishing Tournament. The event got started yesterday 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 today.
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, dozens of boats and hundreds of anglers competed for over $660,000 in several categories.
Last year’s Ocean City Tuna Tournament last weekend certainly lived up to the hype with a strong big-eye bite adding to the drama in several major categories. Angler Ryan Yost on the “Blue Runner” set the bar on Day One with a 157-pound big-eye that cozied into first-place on the leaderboard in the single heaviest fish category. On Saturday, angler Rob Wagner on the “Sea Slammer” hauled in a 182-pound big-eye to leap past the “Blue Runner” into first place. On Sunday, angler Tyler Nichols on the “Osprey” brought in another big-eye that appeared to have a chance to unseat the “Sea Slammer.”
However, the big tuna tipped the scale at 181 pounds, or just one pound short of the 182-pounder weighed by the “Sea Slammer” a day earlier. When the dust settled, it was the “Sea Slammer” taking first place in the single heaviest fish category and taking home a tournament-high $293,776 in prize money. The “Osprey” was second and was awarded $45,909 in prize money, while the “Blue Runner” finished third and took home $26,872.
The heaviest stringer category belonged to the crew on the “Espadon,” which hauled in a whopping 398-pound stringer worth $193,606. The crew on the “That’s Right” took second in the heaviest stringer category with 191 pounds and was awarded $45,909 in prize money. The “Foolish Pleasures” took third with a 182-pound stringer and earned $26,872.
In the dolphin division, it was angler Fred Ippolito on the “Blue Runner” taking first with a 42-pounder worth $16,620. Angler Fred Crickenberger on the “M Kelijean E” took second with a 22-pounder worth $1,000, while angler Jonathan Ferm took third with a 21-pounder worth $500.
Hugh Thomas Cropper on the “Myra HT” was top junior angler and earned $1,000, while Alex Grapes on the “Binnacle” was second and earned $500. The Top Lady Angler award went to Michelle Lambie on the “That’s Right”, while Valerie Dunn on the “D.A. Sea” was second and J.L. Cropper on the “Myra HT” was third.
Angler George Hall III won the single heaviest fish category for a boat 40 feet in length or smaller and earned $4,050 in prize money. The “Foolish Pleasures” won the heaviest stringer award for a boat 40-feet or shorter and also earned $4,050.