(Aug. 16, 2019) The 46th annual White Marlin Open, held Aug. 5-9, saw several records broken, including $6,186,870 million in prize money awarded and the number of billfish caught and released.
“Years ago we changed the minimum [white marlin] weight [to qualify], so it shows you can have a multi-million dollar tournament and release a majority of the fish and still pay out a lot of money,” Jim Motsko, tournament director and co-founder, said last week.
Both of Motsko’s goals were met this year – to have a $6 million payout and 400 boats entered in the tournament. A total of 404 were registered this year.
A record 1,459 white marlins were caught, and 1,429 of them were released (98 percent), to break the record of 1,358 landed in 2016.
“The boats that found them did really well. That’s an average of four per boat,” Motsko said. “With 98 percent on billfish and we gave away $6.1 million, you can’t get better than that.”
Forty-seven blue marlins were hooked, and only one was boated. In addition, 13 sailfish and two spearfish were released.
Tommy Hinkle of West Ocean City took over first place in the coveted white marlin category last Thursday, when he caught a 79.5-pound billfish aboard Fish Whistle. The crew was awarded $1,504,720.
A big chunk of the money came from the Level E Winner Take All calcutta for white marlin, which costs $5,000 to enter. A total of 236 boats out of 404 signed up for the calcutta. The pot total was $1,062,000.
Hinkle also landed the first-place white marlin in 2008, also fishing aboard Fish Whistle. He is the first angler in tournament history to win the white marlin division twice.
The chances of winning it two times, Motsko said, “are very slim.”
“They had one bite that day and that was it,” he said. “The gods were good to him. Simple as that.”
Nathan Walker of Virginia Beach, reeled in a 74-pound marlin aboard Chasin Tail last Monday, the first day of the Open.
Walker and his team were presented $135,432.
The third-place fish, Michael Wagner’s (LaPlata, Maryland) 73.5-pound marlin, was hooked last Tuesday aboard the Backlash.
The team received $1,502,450, because of participation in more added entry level calcuttas than the Chasin Tail crew, including the Level WM (White Marlin Winner Take All), which cost $10,000 to enter.
Neither the Fish Whistle or Chasin Tail crews entered the Level WM, so the money in that calcutta – $1,413,000 – went to the Backlash group. One hundred seventy-five boats signed up for the Level WM.
The only blue marlin brought to the Harbour Island Marina scale was Craig Dickerson’s (Pasadena, Maryland) 465.5-pounder, caught aboard Haulin N Ballin last Tuesday. The fish was worth $962,165. A majority of that money – $412,020 – came from the Level F (Heaviest Blue Marlin Winner Take All) added entry calcutta.
Russell Garufi’s 201-pound bigeye tuna held the top spot in the division all week. The fish the Bishopville angler hooked on Monday earn him and his Crisdel teammates $935,915.
The Seakeeper finished in second place with Andrew Semprevivo’s (Mystic Island, New Jersey) 150.5-pound Allison tuna he boated last Friday. The team won $100,050.
Mjoinir angler Ronnie Fields of Ocean City, landed a 145.5-pound tuna last Tuesday. The fish was worth $128,675.
Mike DiPascali boated a 135-pound tuna last Tuesday, while fishing on The Right Place. The team received $34,110.
Graham Ward reeled in a 121-pound tuna aboard Reeldiculous last Wednesday. The team took home $108,000.
Both the Hubris and Sea Meant teams were presented $41,400 for Rich Kostzyu’s and Jeff Landis, Sr.’s 102.5- and 62-pound tunas, respectively.
Kostzyu also hooked a 76.5-pound wahoo, worth $2,000.
The Give it Away team took over first place in the wahoo division when Anne Aramendia of New Braufels, Texas, caught a 91-pound fish last Friday. They won $24,475.
The Natural angler Kyle McLaughlin reeled in an 82-pound wahoo last Monday. The crew pocketed $23,475.
Both the Keepin it Reel and Night Hawk II teams earned checks for $20,475 for Sam Folland’s and Jay Monteverdi’s 61.5- and 54.5-pound wahoos, respectively.
John Kreiner landed the largest dolphin of the tournament – a 41-pounder – aboard the Playmate last Friday. They earned $20,380.
The Irene came in second place with Frank Sinito’s (Jupiter, Florida) 39-pound dolphin hooked last Friday. The team was presented $3,000.
The Miss-Tres crew finished in third place, but won the most money. Randy Drozd of Brielle, New Jersey, boated a 38-pound dolphin last Friday. The group received $74,900 for participation in the new small boat dolphin division.
Eight-one boats registered for the calcutta, which resulted in a payout of $72,900.
Four teams were awarded $16,380 for their dolphin – Game Changer (Rob Howes, 35.5 pounds), Viking 72 (Ryan Higgins, 33 pounds), Hellsea (Don Smiley, 22 pounds) and No Quarter (Mike Peet, 22 pounds).
The only shark brought to the scale was a 277.5-pound mako, caught by Greg Robinson aboard Polarizer last Monday.
The Polarizer was registered in the new “Big Fish” added entry level and won $231,300. A total of 168 boats signed up for the calcutta, which generated $226,800 in prize money. It cost $1,500 to enter.
Top Three Boats (releases):
Big Deal: 27 white marlins released, 1,960 points; Uno Mas, 23 white marlins and one blue released, 1,785 points; Tar Hell, 25 white marlins released, 1,750 points.
The Big Deal broke a 39-year-old tournament record for most release points by a boat. The previous record of 1,949 was set by the Escapade in 1980, with 24 white marlins released and two boated.
Top Three Anglers:
Ed Russo (Big Deal), 17 white marlins released, 1,190 points; Robert Wedeking (Override), 13 white marlins released, 910 points; Victor Roof, Jr., (Par Five) 10 whites and one blue released, 875 points.
Crews could fish three of five days. A total of 389 boats went offshore on Monday. On Tuesday, 335 boats venture out. On Wednesday, 120 boats headed offshore.
Thursday, 103 crews fished and on the final day last Friday, 268 boats went offshore.
Overall, Motsko thought the tournament was “excellent.”
“I couldn’t ask for anything better,” he said. “Everything went well. Overall, it was very, very, very good. I have no complaints.”
The boost in prize money can be attributed to the increase in boats from the 382 that registered last year, as well as the two new added levels – Level SBD, winner-take-all small boat (under 40 feet length overall) for dolphin, and big fish (BF) for all size boats, winner takes all for the heaviest overall white marlin, blue marlin, swordfish, tuna, dolphin, wahoo or shark.
“They went over very well,” Motsko said. “It was almost $300,000 in those two.”
Prize money jumped from $5.45 million to over $6.1 this year – a 9-percent increase, according to Motsko. Participation grew by 5.88 percent.
Several celebrities participated in the tournament this year, including basketball legend Michael Jordan and chef Emeril Lagasse. Jordan released one white marlin aboard his boat, Catch 23.
Lagasse released two whites fishing on Miss Victoria.
In addition, racecar driver Martin Truex, Jr. also participated in the Open.