(Aug. 2, 2019) A record $5.45 million was awarded to the winners of the 45th annual White Marlin Open in 2018, and that number could jump to $6 million this year.
Anglers on hundreds of boats will head offshore during the tournament next week in search of the coveted billfish. The Open kicks off Monday and runs through Friday.
Crews have caught and released multiple white and blue marlins over the last few weeks.
“Marlin fishing was very good over the weekend,” Franky Pettolina, Ocean City Marlin Club president, said earlier this week. “Most boats had multiple shots per day, some up to double digits.”
As of Wednesday night, a total of 154 boats had already registered for the tournament.
If teams registered on or before June 1 the base entry fee was $1,100. After that it is $1,400. Pre-registration numbers are similar to last year, Jim Motsko, co-director and founder of the White Marlin Open, said.
“Everything is looking positive that we will have a good tournament,” he said. “Turnout all depends on weather.”
Though most crews wait until the final days to register so they can keep an eye on the forecast, about 65 percent of the boats traditionally return each year. Most of the anglers on those boats are the same, while there are also some changes and additions.
One of the new boats to register before the final weekend is Catch 23, which is also the name of basketball legend Michael Jordan’s boat. It was boat #123 to register for the tournament.
While Motsko didn’t confirm that it is in fact the basketball star’s boat, he did say several celebrities have participated in the tournament before, including baseball Hall of Famer Wade Boggs and singer Roy Clark.
“He’s one of the most recognized people in the world. I don’t know if he will be here or if he is fishing,” Motsko said. “It would be great if that’s the case. A lot of celebrities want to stay under the radar.”
Final registration will take place at Harbour Island Marina on 14th Street this Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. On Sunday, registration will open at noon and run until about 7 p.m.
The goal this year is to have 382 boats in the Open.
“I would be happy with that, or more,” Motsko added. “It would be nice to hit 400.”
Last year 382 boats were registered for the event and a record $5.45 million was distributed among the winners.
“If we have 400 boats and with the new added entry levels, I think we could hit $6 million. That would be an average of $15,000 [spent] per boat.” Motsko said. “That’s exciting. No question about it.”
The base entry fee is $1,400 per boat, which makes teams eligible for $50,000 in guaranteed prize money. There is no limit to the number of anglers on each boat.
There are 24 added entry-level divisions (wagering pools or calcuttas) this year, which range in cost from $100 to $10,000 to enter.
An overwhelming majority – about 98 percent – of the teams sign up for at least one calcutta. The more calcuttas entered, the greater the possible return.
The cost to enter every calcutta this year for boats under 40 feet long is $36,500, not including the base entry fee. Boats 40 feet and larger are eligible to enter 20 calcuttas at a total cost of $32,000.
Two new calcuttas have been added this year.
“People have asked, ‘What else do you have,’ so we added more,” Motsko said.
Level SBD is a winner-take-all small boat (under 40 feet length overall) dolphin category. The cost is $1,000 to enter. The heaviest dolphin winner takes all in this division.
The new big fish (BF) category is for all boats and is winner takes all for the heaviest overall white marlin, blue marlin, swordfish, tuna, dolphin, wahoo or shark. The cost to enter is $1,500.
Lady anglers will also be recognized this year. The top three women with the most billfish points will be honored.
“We’re seeing more and more ladies participating each year and we’re excited to award the top three female anglers for billfish points,” Madelyne Rowan, White Marlin Open co-director, stated in a press release.
Pettolina was instrumental in implementing this new ladies recognition. His company, Pettolina Marine Surveying and Consulting LLC, is sponsoring the awards.
While fishing together in a tournament, Pettolina discussed with Motsko that if they were to add a ladies division to the Open he would like to sponsor it.
“We’ve received a lot of praise for adding it, a lot of positive feedback,” Motsko said. “It it’s a win-win for everybody, so why not do it.”
Motsko is hoping more ladies will participate this year with the addition of the category.
Cheryl McLeskey reeled in the first-place white marlin during the 2015 Open aboard the Backlash.
The fish, weighing 94 pounds – ranking it the third-largest in tournament history – was worth $1,176,113. McLeskey, of Virginia Beach, was the first woman to land the winning white marlin in the Open. It was also her first time participating in the tournament.
A number of women have also been in the top 10 for billfish points over the years, including Pettolina’s mother.
During the 1994 tournament, Pettolina’s mother, Maddie, was at one point the top angler, but by the end of the week she finished in 11th place in overall points. She released three white marlins that week.
“At that point they just recognized the top 10,” Pettolina said.
They were on the Last Call, run by his dad, Frank, while Pettolina, who was 20 years old at time, was the mate on the boat.
He told himself, one day if he had the means and opportunity he would sponsor a division so female anglers can get the recognition they deserve.
“I’ve been all over the world with my mom. She’s tiny – 4-foot 10-[inches] 4-foot 11-[inches] – and she’s competed in tournaments her whole life,” Pettolina said. “I wouldn’t be where I am doing what I’m doing without her. This is a tribute to her.”
He also founded the Marlin Club’s Heels and Reels ladies-only tournament, which is now in its 11th year, and has had a long relationship with the Capt. Steve Harman’s Poor Girls Open, now in its 26th year.
It takes a combination of luck and skill to catch a white marlin. First, captains and anglers must know how and where to find them. From that point on, luck comes into play, as there’s no way to know whose bait might attract the interest of a big fish. Anyone can get lucky, and that is why the Open is so popular. Novice anglers have won the tournament.
Teams may fish anywhere within 100 nautical miles of the Ocean City inlet sea buoy, but certain areas hold favor. Most boats will head to the offshore canyons — Poor Man’s, Baltimore, Norfolk and Washington — where large fish and Open winners have been caught in the past.
Billfish conservation is emphasized every year, as more than 95 percent of white and blue marlins are released.
Altogether, 705 white marlins were released during the 2018 WMO. Only 18 were boated. In addition, 56 blue marlins were released and only two were boated. Twenty-two spearfish and five sailfish were released. None were boated.
To be a contender in the white marlin division this year, Motsko thinks a fish will need to weigh about 85 pounds.
The tournament minimum is 70 pounds and 67 inches.
To have a chance at prize money in the blue marlin division, Motsko thinks the fish will need to weigh at least 650 pounds. The minimum length for blue marlin is 114 inches. There is no weight minimum.
Each boat is eligible to fish three of the five tournament days. Boats can leave from any inlet between Rudee Inlet in Virginia and Barnegat Inlet in New Jersey.
All anglers will be searching for the same species: white and blue marlin, tuna, wahoo, dolphin and shark.
While the white marlin division is the most prized, there are also large payouts in the blue marlin and tuna categories. Cash prizes are also awarded for billfish releases.
Weigh-ins will take place daily at Harbour Island on 14th Street from 4-9:15 p.m., and are free and open to the public.
Thousands of spectators of all ages — from small children to experienced anglers and mates — converge on the marina each day to catch a glimpse of the fish.
Spectators find the experience exciting, because most of them have never seen such big fish before. Guests are encouraged to arrive early to get a good view of the action at the scale.
Food, beverages, jewelry and official White Marlin Open apparel will be sold during the weigh-ins at Harbour Island. Those who can’t make it to 14th Street can watch the action live on www.whitemarlinopen.com. Daily activity and updates will also be posted.
If the weather is favorable, Motsko said a majority of the boats would go out fishing on the first day. Many also like to fish the last two days because by that time crews know what species to target and what weight to beat.
The first White Marlin Open took place in 1974 with 57 boats registered and a guaranteed $20,000 in prize money.
Boat participation and payout from 2005 to 2018: 2005, 449 (record)/$2.7 million; 2006, 428/$3.14 million; 2007, 396/$3.1 million; 2008, 300/$2.3 million; 2009, 298/$2.2 million; 2010, 255/$2.13 million; 2011, 237/$2.13 million; 2012, 253/$2.3 million; 2013, 262/$2.47 million; 2014 288/$2.77 million; 2015, 307/$3,916,840; 2016, 329/$4.42 million; 2017, 353/$4.97 million; and 2018, 382/$5.45 million.
During the 2018 tournament about half of the $5.45 million purse was presented to the Weldor’s Ark crew for Pascual Jimenez’s 83-pound white marlin.
The Puerto Aventuras, Mexico angler landed the fish on the final day of the tournament. The marlin actually tied with Gregory Giron’s (Virginia Beach), who boated his 83 pounder aboard Under Dog, the day before.
However, according to the White Marlin Open rules, “in the event of a tie in the weight of a white marlin, the fish that is not gaffed will be considered the winner of the two.”
This rule was implemented years ago to prevent fish from being needlessly killed and to conserve the species.
Giron’s marlin was brought on board with the assistance of a gaff – a pole or stick with a hook on the end used to stab the fish and lift it into the boat.
The Weldor’s Ark crew did not use a gaff and was presented $2,584,260 – a new tournament record. The Under Dog team won $129,784.
Two hundred eighteen boats registered for the Level E Winner Take All calcutta for white marlin, which cost $5,000 to enter. The pot totaled $981,000. One hundred thirty-eight crews registered for the Level WM (White Marlin Winner Take All) added entry-level calcutta, which cost $10,000 to enter. The purse for that calcutta was $1,242,000. Both pots went to the Weldor’s Ark team.
Bill Haugland of Coconut Grove, Florida, and his Lights Out teammates took home $85,804 for his 75-pound white marlin.
The only qualifying blue marlin tipped the scale at 881 pounds. Joe Rahman of Wanaque, New Jersey landed the blue marlin – the sixth largest in tournament history – while fishing on Auspicious. The group received a check for $924,936.
Level F Blue Marlin Winner Take All added entry-level calcutta pot totaled $399,600 with 222 boats out of the 382 registered for the tournament entered into it.
More than $1.3 million was awarded in the tuna division last year – a new record. The prize money increased so much compared to 2017 because of the addition of the T4 added entry-level calcutta Heaviest Winner Take All for tuna.
The cost to enter the calcutta was $3,000. A total of 141 registered for the T4 calcutta. The payout in just that entry-level alone was $380,700.
That money went to the Buckshot crew for Gary Sansburry’s (Hobe Sound, Florida) 75.5-pound tuna. The team won a total of $904,851.
Blackstone, Massachusetts resident Charles Matattal reeled in a 73.5-pound tuna aboard Blinky IV, good for second place in the division. The team earned $135,421.
Brass Monkey angler Jake Pilkerton of Leonardtown, Maryland, hooked a 71-pound tuna. Because of participation in added entry-levels, including the Small Boat Heaviest Tuna Winner Take All calcutta, the crew was awarded $215,916.
Ken Doody of Selbyville, Delaware, picked up a 59.5-pound tuna while fishing on Game Over. The team took home a check for $50,400.
In the dolphin division, Fin-Nominal came in first place with Louis Genello’s (Scranton, Pennsylvania) 50 pounder. The fish was worth $19,646.
The Rigged Up took second place with George Mess’ (Ocean City) 41-pound dolphin. The group received $18,646.
Rob Overfield (Fawn Grove, Pennsylvania) caught a 36-pound dolphin aboard Moxie Boys and was awarded $16,646.
Norman Rockwell (Baldwin, Maryland) and his Sea Note teammates earned a check for $15,300 for his 23-pound dolphin.
The Bonnie Lynn crew also won $15,300 for Kevin Steinhice’s (Westminster, Maryland) 22 pounder.
Kevin Graybill’s (Morgantown, Pennsylvania) 63-pound wahoo was the largest of the tournament. He and his Over-Board teammates were presented $115,271 for the fish.
The crew received such a big payout because of participation in added entry-level calcuttas, including the Small Boat Big Fish (Heaviest White Marlin, Blue Marlin, Tuna, Dolphin, Wahoo or Shark) - Winner Take All.
The Desperado team finished in second place with Kenny Sexton’s (Manteo, North Carolina) 58-pound wahoo. They took home $1,846.
Canyon Hunter angler Charles Dawson (Partlow, Virginia) landed a 55-pound wahoo and got a check for $21,471.
Leo Cantillo (Clifton, New Jersey) hooked a 47-pound wahoo while fishing on The Right Place. The crew won $19,125.
The Instigator team also received $19,125 for Curtis Colgate’s (Virginia Beach) 43-pound wahoo.
For more information, visit www.whitemarlinopen.com or call 410-289-9229.