OCEAN CITY- The resort will once again become the center of the sportfishing universe next week when hundreds of anglers and thousands of spectators gather in Ocean City for the 45th 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.
Just as they have for decades, hundreds of spectators will line the seawall at the Inlet to watch the parade of boats chugging out early Monday morning, the first of five official fishing days. The tournament gets underway on Monday with the first of five fishing days and boats and captains and teams of anglers will strategically choose which three of the five days to fish.
Each tournament is uniquely different and this year will likely be no exception. In some years, the winning white marlin is caught on the very first day and the angler and crew wait out the tense remaining days to see if their fish will hold up and collect the million dollar-plus top prize. In other years, the winning white is raised at the scale at the last hour on 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.
Thousands will cram into host Harbour Island each day for a chance to see a million-dollar fish hauled up the scale. Many WMO enthusiasts begin showing up early in the afternoon to get a prime viewing spot near the scale and as the day wears on, the crowd swells around the otherwise quiet neighborhood.
Last year’s tournament got off to a rocky start with strong storms and rough seas keeping most of the registered 353 boats at port on the first two days. The tournament really hit its stride mid-week after the weather cleared and the seas calmed with an 86-pound white marlin caught by angler Mike Donohue on the Griffin out of Palm Beach, Florida highlighting action on Wednesday.
Donohue and the Griffin crew would have to wait out two more days to claim the top prize, however, with most of the registered boats still with two fishing days remaining. Thursday passed fairly quietly with little change on the leaderboard, but everything changed in a hurry when the scale at host Harbour Island opened for business on Friday afternoon.
When the scale opened at 4 p.m. on the last day, the local boat M.R. Ducks was waiting with a white marlin to weigh. The 79.5-pounder did not challenge the Griffin’s 86-pounder caught on Wednesday, but it did cozy briefly into second place. However, a short time later another Ocean City boat, the Wire Nut, pulled into the scale at Harbour Island with a big white marlin to weigh.
The huge crowd craned to get a peek at the big white as it was pulled from the Wire Nut and hoisted up the scale. When the digital scale stopped fluttering, the final tally was 95.5 pounds, becoming the new tournament leader and eventual winner. To put it in perspective, the 95.5-pounder caught by angler Glen Frost of Stevensville, was the third largest in tournament history, topped only by the tournament record holder, a 99-pounder in 1980 and a 97.5-pounder caught in 2010.
When the dust settled after the whirlwind three days, it was Frost and the Wire Nut taking the top prize and a $1.6 million payout. Donohue and the Griffin finished in second and earned $1.5 million, while Andrews and the M.R. Ducks crew settled into third and earned $164,673.
There were no qualifying blue marlin weighed during the 2017 WMO, but the tuna division certainly produced its share of drama. When all was said and done, it was angler Joseph Sadler on the Intents out of Jupiter, Florida taking first place with a 68.5-pounder worth $866,553, a new WMO record payout in the tuna division.
Angler James Boynton on the Blue Runner took second in the tuna division with a 67-pounder worth $90,380. Angler Kris Rainear on the Warden Pass also weighed a 67-pound tuna and earned $52,950. Angler Jared Brown on the Slabjack weighed a 65.5-pound tuna and took third, earning $36,180 in prize money.
Angler Jim Murray on the Caitlin and angler Jim Stavola on the Milling Around each weighed 64-pound tunas and share fourth place, each earning $36,180. Oddly, the one and only dolphin weighed during the tournament was caught by angler Andrew Cohen on the Silly Money, a 23-pounder worth $74,841. In the wahoo division, it was angler Gary Capuano on the Hog Wild taking first place with a 55-pounder caught on the first day that was ultimately worth $27,841.