OCEAN CITY- Ocean City will once again become the center of the sportfishing universe next week when hundreds of anglers and thousands of spectators gather in the resort for the 44th Annual White Marlin Open.
For over four decades, the White Marlin Open, deemed the largest billfish tournament in the world, has been one of the highlights of the summer season, a sort of crescendo before the gradual downward slide into mid-August and the end of another summer season. The tournament officially begins on Sunday with a captain’s meeting and late registration, but the real action gets started on Monday, the first of five official fishing days. Participating boats will choose to fish three of the five days from Monday to next Friday.
Thousands of spectators will cram into host Harbour Island Marina each day next week for an opportunity to see a million dollar fish raised at the scale. The otherwise peaceful Harbour Island community for the entire week will become a large festival of fishing, big boats, live entertainment, food and vendor tents and an ever-changing leaderboard.
Numerous records were set during lat year’s tournament, reconfirming Ocean City’s reputation as the White Marlin Capital of the World. While just one qualifying white marlin was weighed at the Harbour Island scale, over the course of the tournament’s five days, the 329 registered boats released a WMO record 1,412 billfish, of which 1,358 were white marlin. The previous tournament record for white marlin releases was 1,104 set in 2002.
Last year’s tournament will likely be remembered more for what happened after than during the event. The one and only qualifying white marlin weighed during the tournament, a 76-pounder caught by the Kallianassa, temporarily worth $2.8 million, was ultimately disqualified after a lengthy court proceeding and the record payout was redistributed to the winners in several other categories.
As a result, the first-place tuna, a 236-pounder caught by angler Richard Kosztyu aboard the Hubris was ultimately awarded roughly $3 million when the redistributed white marlin category money was added to its winnings for the first-place tuna.
The one and only blue marlin weighed during last year’s WMO was caught by angler Jim Conway on the Get Reel and produced some drama of its own. Somewhere along the way, the blue marlin’s tail separated from its body, calling into question, at least briefly, if it should qualify.
After the requisite measurements were taken and the tail issue was resolved, the big blue was hoisted up the scale and topped out at 790 pounds. The blue was the one and only qualifier weighed during the tournament and was awarded roughly $260,000 in prize money initially.
The tuna division saw its leaderboard written, erased and written again throughout the week, but when the dust settled, it was Kosztyu and the Hubris taking first place with a 236.5-pound big-eye. Angler Mark Hutchinson on the “Magic Moment” took second in the tuna division with a 233-pounder worth $131,968, while Dave Arnold on the “American Lady” was third with a 71.5-pounder worth $52,626. Pat Horning on the “Fish Whistle” also weighed a 71.5-pound tuna worth $5,626, while John Hoffman on the “Reel Direct” was fifth with a 67-pounder worth $30,504.
In the dolphin division, it was angler Josh Sharp on the “Sea Flame” weighing a 39-pounder on the tournament’s last day to take first and $17,717 in prize money. Angler Brian Russell on the “Sea Wolf” was second with a 36-pounder worth $14,967, angler John Gudelsky on the “Reel Joy” was third with a 36-pounder worth $16,217, Shannon Mills on the “Sea Breeze” was fourth with a 35.5-pounder worth $13,717, and Thomas Bennett on the “Delta Dawn” was fifth with a 34.5-pounder worth $13,717.
In the wahoo division, angler Richard Hammond on the “Two Timing Connie” was first with a 79-pounder worth $24,862, Brian Leader on the “Second Chance” was second with a 54-pounder worth $5,000, Daniel Stuart on the “Got Fish Too” was third with a 41-pounder worth $24,862, and Steve Figiel on the “No Service” was fifth with a 40.5-pounder worth $22,862.
In the shark division, angler J.D. Messler on the “MJ’s” was first with a 260.5-pounder worth $4,500, while Hunter Pusey on the “Rumor Has It” was second with a 223-pounder worth $3,500.