OCEAN CITY — The White Marlin Open, which returns next month for the 46th year, naturally attracts the sportfishing heavyweights, but this year’s lineup will have even more star power with the inclusion of basketball legend Michael Jordan.
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. The tournament, with more than $5 million in prize money doled out last year including a record $2.5 million to the winner in the signature white marlin division, attracts the top boats, captains and anglers from all over the world.
Over the years, more than a few celebrities have competed and been seen hanging around tournament headquarters in Harbour Island. For example, a few years back baseball Hall of Famer Wade Boggs fished in the tournament and was seen around the marina the entire week.
This year will see perhaps the biggest celebrity ever to compete in the tournament with the arrival of Michael Jordan and his crew on the aptly-named Catch 23. WMO officials this week confirmed the Catch 23, a 80-foot Viking, has officially entered the 2019 tournament. Indeed, a check of current entries, which by mid-week had reached 134, revealed the Catch 23, either by mere coincidence, good timing or perhaps a perfect omen, is entry number 123.
The tournament officially gets underway next Sunday, Aug. 4, with a captain’s meeting and late registration, but the real action gets started on Monday, Aug. 5, the first of five official fishing days. Participating boats and anglers will choose to fish three of the five days through Friday, Aug. 9, and the drama and tension will build with each passing day.
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.
It didn’t take long for last year’s WMO to live up to its advanced billing with a whopping 881-pound blue marlin among the very first fish weighed when he scales opened on Monday. The 881-pounder, caught by angler Joe Rahman on the Auspicious, set the bar high and stood up all week and was the one and only qualifying blue marlin weighed at the scale during the tournament.
Rahman and the Auspicious crew earned over $924,000 for the big blue, which was the sixth largest in WMO history. In a two-year stretch in 2009 and 2010, a pair of granders took first place in the blue marlin division including a tournament-record 1.062-pounder in 2009 followed by a 1,010-pounder in 2010. Before that big run on blue marlin, the record in that division was a 942-pounder way back in 1989.
As big as that story was, it is the White Marlin Open for a reason and the glamour division stole the show during the 2018 event. On Tuesday of marlin week, angler Bill Haughland on the Lights Out weighed the first qualifying white marlin, a 75-pounder that cozied into the top spot on the leaderboard.
However, on Thursday, angler Greg Giron on the Under Dog out of Virginia Beach weighed an 83-pounder that took over the top spot and was temporarily worth nearly $2.6 million in prize money.
Fame and fortune were fleeting for the Under Dog, however, as 337 of the 382 registered boats still had a fishing day left on Friday, the final day of the tournament. Late Friday evening, the Weldor’s Ark out of Morehead City pulled into the scale with two white marlin to weigh. The first weighed in at 71 pounds and the Under Dog was safe for at least a few more minutes.
However, the second white marlin pulled from the stern of the Weldor’s Ark topped out at exactly 83 pounds, or the same as the Under Dog’s first-place white weighed a day earlier. The big crowd on hand was hushed with whispers of what the tie meant exactly in terms of prize money.
It didn’t take long for tournament officials to sort out the tiebreaking situations, however. The Under Dog’s 83-pounder caught on Thursday had to be gaffed to be boated, which is perfectly legal according to tournament rules. A gaff is a spear-like piece of equipment used when a fish cannot be brought into the boat by conventional means.
The Weldor’s Ark’s 83-pounder caught on Friday did not need to be gaffed to be boated. As a result, the Weldor’s Ark earned to top prize in the signature white marlin division, a new tournament-record $2.58 million. The Under Dog earned $129,784 in prize money for its 83-pounder, while the Lights Out earned $84,804 for its 75-pounder.
The tuna division produced its share of drama with the leaderboard written, erased and rewritten all week. When the dust settled, it was angler Gary Sansburry on the Buckshot out of Ocean City taking first-place with a 75.5-pounder worth over $900,000. Angler Charles Matattal on the Blinky IV took second with a 73.5-pounder worth $135,421. Angler Jake Pilkerton on the Brass Monkey took third in the tuna division with a 71-pounder worth $215,916, while angler Ken Doody on the Game Over out of Ocean City took fourth with a 59.5-pounder worth $50,400.
In the dolphin division, it was angler Louis Genello on the Fin-Nominal taking first place with a 50-pounder worth $19,646. Angler George Mess on the Rigged Up took second with a 41-pounder worth $18,646, angler Rob Overfield on the Moxie Boys took third with a 36-pounder worth $16,646, angler Norman Rockwell on the Sea Note took fourth with a 23-pounder worth $15,300 and angler Kevin Steinhice on the Bonnie Lynn took fifth with a 22-poundere also worth $15,300.
In the wahoo division, angler Kevin Graybill on the Overboard took first with a 63-pounder worth $115,271. Kenny Sexton on the Desperado took second with a 58-pounder worth $1,846, Charles Dawson on the Canyon Hunter took third with a 55-pounder worth $21,471, Leo Cantillo on The Right Place took fourth with a 47-pounder worth $19,125 and Curtis Colgate on the Instigator took fifth with a 43-pounder also worth $19,125.