OCEAN CITY – Lightning struck twice last week for local teacher and seasoned tournament angler Tommy Hinkle, whose 79.5-pound white marlin survived some late challenges during an extended White Marlin Open final day to hang on to the top prize of over $1.5 million.
Hinkle, a teacher at Stephen Decatur High School, and the crew on the Fish Whistle, caught the 79.5-pound white on Thursday of White Marlin Open (WMO) week and it held on. Hinkle and the Fish Whistle crew caught the winning white marlin 11 years ago in 2008 with an 81-pounder to take the top prize in that WMO.
Several challengers were brought to the scale at Harbour Island last Friday, the last day of the five-day tournament. Typically, the scale closes at around 9:15 p.m. each day, but because of all of the action on the last day, boats were still lined up waiting to enter the marina much later than that.
The penultimate boat to weigh a fish shortly before 10 p.m. on Fri-
day had a white marlin on board
and the big crowd was hushed as WMO staffers took the requisite measurements. When the long, but lean white was raised at the scale, it topped out at 71 pounds, clinching the win for the Fish Whistle and Hinkle, who became the first-ever two-time winner in the 46-year history of the WMO.
Hinkle was on hand at the scale surrounded by family and friends, who shouted “Tommy, Tommy” as the results became official. Ironically, Hinkle was wearing a T-shirt reading “I Love When My Wife Let’s Me Go Fishing.” He had proposed to his wife Lisa at the scale several years ago during the White Marlin Open and has since won the prestigious tournament twice.
The big win and the outpouring of love and support during the wait, after it became official and in the days since left the typically loquacious Hinkle speechless.
“I’m really at a loss for words to describe it,” he said. “Winning it was obviously important, but to me, having all of those people coming up to me and saying they were rooting for me was just as important. It was a pretty good feeling to have all of those people on your side.”
Hinkle said the Fish Whistle caught and released two white marlin on day one last Monday, then saw two whites, a blue marlin and sailfish on day two on Tuesday, but didn’t boat any of those fish. He said there was some talk of fishing again on Thursday, but Captain Charlie Horning and the Fish Whistle crew decided to take a day off Wednesday and get back after it on Thursday.
Hinkle said they caught a dolphin early and it was predetermined if a billfish came up in the spread, he was going to be the angler. Around 11:30 a.m., the future winner came up in spread and took the bait and it was game on.
“We got it to the boat in about 10 minutes and once we got a look at it, we knew it was long enough to boat and bring to the scale,” he said. “Then, it kind of got spooked and ran. It took me around 90 minutes to the boat, which I think is the longest I ever fought a fish. It jumped a couple of times and we knew it was
a special fish, at least big enough
to get on the leaderboard maybe,
or take the small boat daily. When we got a gaff in it and got it in the boat, I could tell when we took the
measurements it was at least 70 pounds because I have a similar one hanging on the wall in my living room.”
Hinkle said the Fish Whistle returned to Harbour Island and was the first boat at the scale on Thursday. When the big white was pulled from the cockpit and raised at the scale, it topped out at 79.5-pounds and the celebration could begin, at least temporarily.
“In all of the confusion and noise, when it was first weighed I thought they said it was 70.5,” he said. “They said no, it’s 79.5 and I had no idea it would be that big.”
There were still a lot of boats with fish to weigh on Thursday, and a full day of fishing on Friday with over 200 boats still with a fishing day left. Hinkle said he hung around Harbour Island on Thursday and by Friday, his good friend and Ocean City restaurateur Doug Buxbaum came up with a plan to wait out the remaining day, just as he had when Hinkle and the Fish Whistle won the WMO in 2008.
“Buxy told me I need to get away tomorrow [Friday], and it was a good idea,” he said. “We had some lunch, had a couple of beers and were back at Harbour Island by around 7 p.m. I thought ‘okay, this is good. Probably just a few more boats to come in and then we’ll see what happens.”
Instead, boat after boat came in, stretching well past the prescribed 9:15 close time for the scale. Shortly before 10 p.m., the Oil Slick weighed its 71-pounder and it became official. Hinkle and the Fish Whistle crew had held on to win the signature white marlin division for a record second time.
The last time Hinkle and the crew won the WMO in 2008, they caught the winning white marlin on day one on Monday and had to wait it out the rest of the week to see if it would hold up. This time, the wait was harder despite the shorter duration.
“It was a lot harder than the first time because we still went out fishing and went about doing our thing,” he said. “This was just an intense 24 hours or so because we didn’t have anything else to do.”
With the win confirmed and the requisite polygraph exams and other formalities dispensed with, Hinkle and the Fish Whistle crew received their ceremonial big check at the awards ceremony on Saturday. He said this week his share of the $1.5 million won’t change is life, but will certainly make it a little easier.
“It’s a game-changer, but not a life changer,” he said. “On the first Tuesday after Labor Day, I’ll be back in the classroom and starting the grind.”