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 46th 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 crescendo before the gradual 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 Friday, Aug. 5-9.
Last year, 382 boats participated in the White Marlin Open. As of midweek, over 150 had already registered for next week’s WMO, which is a fairly big number considering most captains and crews wait until the weekend or even the day before to sign up after a last-minute check of the weather.
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.
Each tournament is uniquely different. In some years, the winning white marlin is caught on the 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 with millions in prize money at stake in several categories — white marlin, blue marlin, tuna, dolphin, wahoo and shark.
Thousands will cram into host Harbour Island Marina each day next week for a chance to see a multi-million-dollar fish hauled up the scale. Many 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.
In a rare twist in the signature white marlin category last year, two boats weighed 83-pounders on the last day to finish in a tie. The tie-breaker came down to a little-known gaffing rule. The 83-pounder caught by the Under Dog had to be gaffed to bring on board the vessel, which is a perfectly legal technique. However, an 83-pounder caught by the Weldor’s Ark did not need to be gaffed and was awarded the tournament’s top prize of $2.58 million, a new tournament record. By comparison, the Under Dog’s 83-pound white earned $129,784.
The White Marlin Open added a few new wrinkles for the 2019 event including a new biggest fish category. The added entry level will award anglers and boats that catch the single largest fish in the tournament, whether it be a white marlin, blue marlin, swordfish, tuna, dolphin, wahoo or shark.
Another new addition is a lady angler category, which will recognize the first, second and third place lady anglers with the most billfish points.
A few years ago, a small boat category was added for certain species. This year, the tournament is adding a small boat level for dolphin. Prizes will be awarded to boats 40 feet and under in the dolphin division for the first time for an added entry fee of $1,000.