OCEAN CITY – The 2019 White Marlin Open was one for the books and perhaps the best ever with a local angler winning the signature division for an unprecedented second time, a record payout and the old record for the number of white marlin released shattered.
With 404 boats participating and a world record $6.2 million in prize money on the line, the 2019 White Marlin Open (WMO) was shaping up to be a memorable one before a single line entered the water and it certainly lived up to its expectations. Each White Marlin Open is uniquely different and this year’s version was special for a lot of reasons.
This year, local angler and high school teacher Tommy Hinkle and the crew on the Fish Whistle weighed a 79.5-pound white marlin on Thursday and sweated out throughout the last day on Friday to see if the fish would hang on and reward them with a $1.5 million payday.
With the tournament winding down and just a couple of boats waiting to get to the scale at host Harbour Island late last Friday, the crew on the Oil Slick came in with a relatively big white marlin to weigh, but the long, lean fish topped out at 71 pounds and Hinkle and the Fish Whistle crew could celebrate their victory.
The 2019 WMO was also somewhat unique in how the boat-fishing days were expended. There were 404 boats registered for the tournament, each with three fishing days available, for a total of 1,212 “boat days.” With a red hot white marlin bite going on at the outset of the tournament, 389 boats went out on day one last Monday and another 355 went out on Tuesday, meaning 744 of the total 1,212 boat days, or roughly two-thirds, were expended in just the first two days.
Another remarkable feature of the 2019 White Marlin Open was the new record for white marlin releases, which shattered the old record set in 2016. The tournament prides itself on conservation and catch-and-release rates and that has been the case again thus far this year. Throughout the week, many boats reported multiple white marlin releases, but most were too short or too light to qualify and were released.
In 2016, when prevailing conditions and water temperatures were similar to this year, a tournament-record 1,358 white marlin were caught and released and it appeared that number would almost surely fall this year by midweek of the 2019 tourney. When the dust settled and the scale closed on Friday, a new record 1,429 white marlin had been released.
As if the first-ever two-time winner and a new white marlin release record did not create enough drama on its own, the 2019 tournament will also likely be remembered for the participation of NBA legend Michael Jordan. In addition, celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse participated in the 2019 WMO, also adding to the intrigue and star power.
When all was said and done, it was Hinkle and the Fish Whistle crew taking first place in the signature white marlin division with a 79.5-pounder worth $1,504,720. Angler Nathan Walker on the Chaisin’ Tail took second with a 74-pounder worth $135,432 and angler Michael Wagner on the Backlash took third with a 73.5-pounder, but earned $1,502,450 in prize money because of added entry levels. The lone qualifying blue marlin was caught by angler Craig Dickerson on the Haulin and Ballin, a 465.5-pounder worth $962,165.
The tuna division also featured a big payout with angler Russell Garufi on the Crisdel landing a 201-pounder worth $935,915. Angler Andrew Semprevivo on the Seakeeper was second with a 150.5-pounder worth $100,050, Ronnie Fields on the Mjolnir was third with a 145.5-pounder worth $128,675, Mike DiPascali on The Right Place was fourth with a 135-pounder worth $34,110 and Graham Ward on the Reeldiculous was fifth with a 121-pounder worth $108,000.
In the wahoo division, angler Anne Aramendia took first with a whopping 91-pounder worth $24,475. Kyle Mc-Laughlin on the Natural took second with an 82-pounder worth $23,475, Rich Kostzyu on the Hubris took third with a 76.5-pounder worth $2,000 and Sam Falland on the Keepin It Reel was fourth with a 61.5-pounder worth $20,475.
In the dolphin division, John Kreiner on the Playmate took first with a 41-pounder worth $20,380. Frank Sinito on the Irene took second with a 39-pounder worth $3,000, Randy Drozd on the Miss-Tres was third with a 38-pounder worth $74,900, Rob Howes on the Game Changer was fourth with a 35.5-pounder worth $16,380, Ryan Higgins on the Viking 72 was fifth with a 33-pounder worth $16,380, Don Smiley on the Hellsea and Mike Peet on the No Quarter tied for sixth with a pair of 22-pounders and each earned $16,380 in prize money. The lone shark weighed during the tournament was a 277.5-pounder caught by angler Greg Robinson on the Polarizer worth $231,300.