(Aug. 16, 2019) What are the odds of winning the White Marlin Open once, let alone twice? Just ask Stephen Decatur High School math teacher Tommy Hinkle, who won the tournament for the second time last week.
While there is probably a mathematical formula and numbers to crunch, Hinkle just summed it up by saying, “it’s pretty much a one-in-a-million chance.”
“The thought [of winning a second time] never crossed my mind,” he said. “It’s kind of unbelievable.”
Hinkle, of West Ocean City, caught the largest white marlin of the annual tournament again, last Thursday while fishing aboard the Fish Whistle.
Crews can fish three of the five tournament day. Thursday was the Fish Whistle’s third and final day heading offshore in search of the coveted white marlin.
On Monday, the team released two white marlins. On Tuesday, they saw five fish, but the six-man crew didn’t have much luck so Hinkle suggested they take a lay day on Wednesday to regroup and “get some mojo back.”
His teammates agreed, but Capt. Charlie Horning said if they were going to take the day off, when they headed back out on Thursday, Hinkle would be on the rod.
“He said if we take tomorrow off, then the rod is in your hands [on Thursday] if we get a billfish hooked up,” Hinkle said.
His teammates were OK with that.
Thursday didn’t start off the way Hinkle had planned. Around 3:30 a.m. Hinkle said his wife, Lisa, nudged him and asked shouldn’t he be getting ready to go fishing?
He overslept and was about an hour late getting to the boat, based in Indian River, Delaware.
The crew left shortly after he arrived around 4:30 a.m. Around 9 a.m. they picked up a small dolphin.
About 11:30 a.m. a white marlin took their bait in the Wilmington Canyon. It came up to the boat in about 10 minutes and once they saw the fish, they knew it was keeper.
“We knew what we had was a scale fish,” he said.
The marlin then took off and Hinkle fought it for about 90 minutes. It jumped twice and Hinkle said it looked bigger than they first thought.
Hinkle said he felt pressure and was very careful not to lose the fish.
“It was a pretty intense battle. So many things can go wrong in such a long fight,” he said. “There was a lot of things that could go wrong, but they didn’t. I did everything I could as an angler to land that fish.”
After a group effort, the fish was finally on the boat.
“It was the whole crew … it’s a team effort,” he said.
According to its measurement, the chart they had on board estimated it to weigh around 65 pounds, Hinkle said. He hoped it would be closer to 70 pounds.
Although there were heavier white marlins on the leaderboard, the crew at least thought they could be a contender – maybe not a winner – or at least take the small boat daily calcutta.
“Just to take a fish to the scale is exciting,” he said. “We were happy we caught something and got to go to the scale again.”
After the fish was on board and packed in ice, which was around 1 p.m., since they had a several-hour ride to Harbour Island Marina, they decided to head back to Ocean City.
“It was the first time I can remember being done fishing early,” he said. “We wanted to go now because we didn’t want it to lose weight.”
On the way in, Hinkle said he and his teammates were throwing out numbers, guessing how much the fish weighed.
Weigh-ins for the 46th annual tournament started at 4 p.m. and Hinkle said the Fish Whistle was the first boat in to weigh a fish that day. As the marlin was hoisted up, Hinkle said he thought the weight called was “70.5 pounds.”
“I said, ‘cool, 70.5 pounds,’” he said. “Then the guy next to me said, ‘no, he said 79.’”
When he heard the actual number he became emotional.
“We might have a chance to win again,” he said. “We went crazy. Everybody was hugging.”
After the crew celebrated, Hinkle got the “OK” to hang out at the scale and skip boat clean-up duties. His teammate took the boat, with the fish on board, back to Indian River.
Over 280 boats fished on Friday, the final day of the Open, so there was a chance Hinkle’s fish could be beat.
He and his friend, Doug “Buxy” Buxbaum, took a trip to Indian River that day so Hinkle could pick up his truck. They had lunch, then Hinkle said he relaxed – “trying not to think about anything” – and took a nap before going to Harbour Island around 7 p.m. to see if his 79.5-pound marlin would hold the top spot.
The scale was busy as a number of boats weighed fish. Hinkle said he paced back and forth while he waited.
“The last two hours a lot of boats came in with fish to weigh,” he said. “It’s like a pitcher having a no-hitter, you don’t want to say anything.”
When all the boats had come in, Hinkle could breathe a sigh of relief. He celebrated with friends and family, including his 81-year old mother.
Hinkle and the Fish Whistle crew were awarded $1,504,720. He is the first angler in the tournament’s 46-year history to land the heaviest white marlin twice.
Hinkle won the 2008 tournament with an 81-pound white marlin he reeled in on the first day of the Open. It took him about 10 minutes to get that fish on the boat. It was just about the same crew both times, minus one, Hinkle said.
“We always try to fish together,” he said.
The group has been fishing in the tournament since 2001. Hinkle has been participating in the Open since the late 1990s.
Hinkle said while it took less time to get that first fish to the boat, the crew had two more fishing day and four days to see if it would be beat. This year, the fish took longer to boat, but the crew only had one day to wait. It was also their last fishing day.
In 2008, his fish actually ended in a tie with Roger Mooney’s 81-pound marlin, caught aboard Hatterascal on the last day, but since the Fish Whistle was registered in additional added entry level calcuttas, the team took home about $756,000 more.
Hinkle, who had just moved from Baltimore to West Ocean City, and his Fish Whistle teammates were presented $956,275, while the Hatterascal crew took home $199,575.
That wasn’t the first time the Fish Whistle brought a white marlin to the scale. In 2002, their white marlin was two pounds shy of qualifying, but while at the scale, Hinkle proposed to Lisa.
That kind of helped people forget the fish didn’t qualify, he said jokingly after the 2008 tournament.
The Fish Whistle has brought a white marlin to the scale during the Open three times. They have also been to the scale three other times, weighing two tuna and wahoo, Hinkle said.
Hinkle said earlier this week that the support from the community has been overwhelming and he was “grateful.” He’s received many well-wishes and “congratulations,” and while at the scale, a number of people told him they were rooting for him.
“I forgot how much it meant from 2008,” he said. “People were excited that a local guy won.”
Even a few days after the tournament ended, Hinkle said it was still surreal as he slowly started working his way back into his daily routine. In just a few weeks he will be back in the classroom teaching.
“I haven’t had a chance to absorb it all,” Hinkle said Tuesday.
He also plans to have a replica of the fish mounted to add to his collection. A replica of the 2008 billfish is hanging in his living room.