OCEAN CITY — The 48th White Marlin Open, which wrapped up last Friday in a flourish, will likely be remembered for the very first fish caught during the tournament and the very last.
Each White Marlin Open (WMO) is different in its own way and this year shaped up that way. Last Monday, on day one, angler Mike Atkinson on the Fender Bender out of Virginia Beach set the bar high in the signature white marlin division with an $82.5 pounder that was worth an estimated $4.9 million.
The Fender Bender had to sweat out the rest of the week to claim the prize, however. Most of the 444 registered boats fished Monday and Tuesday, and took lay days on Wednesday and Thursday, setting up an epic finish on the last day last Friday. Going into Friday, 404 of the 444 registered boats had a fishing day remaining, setting up one of the most memorable finishes in WMO history.
The very last fish weighed before the scales closed last Friday was an 85.5-pound white marlin caught by angler Butch Wright on the local boat Sushi. The big crowd on hand at host Harbour Island cheered as the big white was hoisted at the scale. The 85.5-pounder at the 11th hour knocked the Fender Bender out of first and claimed the tournament’s top prize of $3.2 million.
Also on Friday, the local boat Billfisher and angler Billy Gerlach weighed a 78.5-pound white marlin for third place worth $106,000. When the dust settled, it was the Sushi taking first in the white marlin division, while the Fender Bender was second and the Billfisher was third.
The blue marlin division produced similar drama. The Mama C out of Virginia Beach with angler Chris Perry weighed the first qualifying blue marlin on the first day last Monday. The 559-pound blue marlin stood up all week and was worth around $800,000. However, on the very last day last Friday, the Seven out of Jupiter, Fla. and angler David Cash rolled into the scale with a big blue to weigh. The blue topped out at 775 pounds and the Seven claimed first place as the clock ticked down on the tournament. The Seven’s 775-pound blue marlin was worth $1.1 million when all was settled.
The Mama C took second with its 559-pounder and earned $299,000 in prize money. The Canyon Lady out of Cape May, N.J. with angler Scott Zurawski took third in the blue marlin division with a 511-pounder weighed on the last day and earned $105,000 in prize money.
The Seven created WMO history of its own, finishing first in two different divisions for the first time in tournament history. The Seven already had the first-place tuna on the board heading into the last day, a 137-pounder worth $1.2 million. Late Friday, however, the Seven rolled into the scale with the 775-pound blue marlin to claim first place in that division also and earned another $1.1 million. Combined, with the two first-place finishes, the Seven claimed around $2.3 million in prize money.
The tuna division leaderboard filled out early, but was also erased and re-written on the tournament’s last day. The Seven was sitting comfortable in first with its 137-pounder worth $1.2 million. The earnings for the rest of the leaderboard in the tuna division was largely dependent on what entry levels the participating boats signed up for. For example, the second-place tuna was worth $12,700, while the seventh-place tuna was worth over $270,000.
When the dust settled, it was the Seven in first, the Blood Money out of Ocean City in second with a 102-pounder worth $12,700. The Afishianado out of Oregon Inlet, N.C. with a 96-pounder worth $1,000, the Reely Chaotic out of Fort Lauderdale with an 83-pounder worth $86,000, the Cookie Monster out of Dover with a 69-pounder worth $100,350, The Right Place out of Cape May with a 68-pounder worth $40,140, A Few G’s out of Pasadena, Md. with a 66.5-pounder worth $270,900, the Kilo Charlie out of Ocean City with a 66.5-pounder worth $86,400, and the Reel Chaos with a 60-pounder worth $86,400.
In the wahoo division, the El Azul took first place with an 84-pounder worth $2,000, the Island Hopper was second with a 48-pounder worth $1,500 and the Oysta Gangsta was third with a 46-pounder worth $92,450. In the dolphin division, the Dropped Call was first with a 34-pounder worth $22,000, the Kilo Charlie was second with a 31.5-pounder worth $21,090, the Due Course was third with a 31-pounder worth $1,000, the Point Runner was fourth with a 29.5-pounder worth $18,090, the Boy’s Toy was fifth with a 25-pounder worth $18,090.
Finally, in the dolphin division, NBA legend Michael Jordan’s Catch 23 snuck onto the leaderboard ironically with a 23-pounder worth $18,090. Jordan and his Catch 23 have fished in the WMO in each of the last three years, but last week’s sixth place dolphin was the first time visiting the scale at Harbour Island. For the record, Jordan was not spotted at the scale.
In the shark division, it was the Go Fish taking the top two spots with a 132.5-pounder worth $4,500 and a 131-pounder worth $3,500. Again, 444 boats registered for the tournament and a record $9.6 million was paid out in prize money to the winners in several categories.
The WMO prides itself on conservation and catch-and-release rates and this year was no different. In the white marlin division, for the entire week, 502 were released and 13 were boated, representing a 97% release rate. For the blue marlin, 66 were released and three were boated, representing a 96% release rate. Most of the fish boated and weighed at the scale are cleaned and the meat is donated to the Maryland Food Bank.
In general, the 2021 WMO was essentially back to normal in terms of spectator activity after the 2020 event was curtailed by COVID restrictions. Big crowds packed host Harbour Island all week, but the event reached its crescendo last Friday when the property was saturated and security staff was letting groups of people in as other groups left at the gate to the community.
Another new wrinkle this year was a revamped Marlin Fest at the municipal park along the bayside at 3rd Street. WMO organizers last year put together a satellite location at the 3rd Street park with a big LED screen to watch the weigh-ins. This year, the WMO made an official event with the LED screen streaming the weigh-ins, views of the boats returning to the scale, vendors, live music and food and drink.
By most accounts, the Marlin Fest at 3rd Street was a success. During Tuesday’s Tourism Commission meeting, Mayor Rick Meehan said he thought the event was worthwhile and enjoyed by families.
“The one thing I noticed about Marlin Fest was it seemed better for families than maybe Harbour Island was,” he said. “The complement each other very well. I think there’s an opportunity to build on it.”
Commission member Kevin Gibbs agreed.
“It’s going to have a really good feel to it was it grows,” he said. “For a first event, it seemed like it went very well.”