(July 31, 2020) The 47th annual White Marlin Open kicks off Monday, and while the fishing aspect of the tournament will remain the same – although extended two days because of a less-than-stellar offshore weather forecast early in the week – the weigh-in experience will be altered because of covid-19.
Thousands of spectators of all ages — from small children to experienced anglers and mates — visit Harbour Island on 14th Street annually each of the tournament days to catch a glimpse of the fish.
Due to safety concerns and social distancing guidelines and regulations, the weigh-ins at Harbour Island will be closed to the general public this year.
“It won’t be what people are used to happening at Harbour Island this year. We have a spectator following that other tournaments don’t have,” Jim Motsko, co-director and founder of the White Marlin Open, said. “To comply with rules and regulations constantly changing, it was in the best of everyone’s interest to not let that place get crowded.”
Instead, there will be a new family friendly viewing location at the Third Street ballpark on St. Louis Ave., Monday through Friday. Gates will open at 3 p.m. Attendees can watch the boats go by on their way to Harbour Island to weigh their catches. The weigh-ins will be streamed live on a large Jumbotron set up at the ballpark.
Vendors will be on hand and concessions will be available. Guests can also purchase White Marlin Open gear.
Social distancing is strongly encouraged. There will be plenty of room to spread out. Face coverings are required.
Hand sanitizing stations will be located throughout the ballpark. Coolers are not permitted. Attendees can bring chairs and blankets.
A record $6,186,870 million was awarded to the winners of the 46th annual White Marlin Open in 2019, and that number could jump to $6.5 to $7 million this year.
“It seems like every year prize money keeps going up,” Motsko said. “If the forecast is good, we could be bigger than last year if we get the boats.”
To date, the Open has paid out more than $77 million.
On Thursday morning, White Marlin Open officials announced on Facebook that due to a not-so-great offshore weather forecast in the beginning of the week, the tournament has been extended to Sunday. Teams will be allowed to fish three of the seven days.
“We wanted to give everyone the chance to get three days of fishing in,” Motsko said.
Anglers on hundreds of boats will head offshore during the tournament next week in search of the coveted billfish.
Marlin fishing has been good, Motsko said, as several have been hooked over the last few weeks.
Teams were encouraged to register in advance, and as of Wednesday afternoon, a total of 186 boats had already signed up for the tournament.
If teams registered on or before June 1 the base entry fee was $1,100. Pre-registration numbers are ahead of last year, Motsko said.
Though most crews wait until the final days to register so they can keep an eye on the forecast, typically 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 teams back to compete is last year’s winner, Tommy Hinkle of West Ocean City with the same crew aboard Fish Whistle.
He is excited and looking forward to the tournament. In fact, Hinkle and his teammates planned to do an overnight trip this week to scope out some areas offshore.
“It’s a recon trip and also a practice trip. We practice as a crew, the same six guys,” he said. “You want to know your roles. You have to be prepared for what can happen [and be a] well-oiled machine. It helps your chances, but it’s also still a luck thing too.”
Final registration will take place at Harbour Island Marina on 14th Street this Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Sunday, registration will open at 11 a.m. and run until about 7 p.m.
The captains’ meeting will be virtual and streamed on Facebook around 7:30 p.m. on Sunday.
Last year 404 boats were registered for the event and a record $6,186,870 million was distributed among the winners.
The base entry fee is $1,450 per boat (after June 1), 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 25 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 $38,000, not including the base entry fee. Boats 40 feet and larger are eligible to enter 21 calcuttas at a total cost of $33,500.
There is a new calcuttas this year – Level Pay Day. It costs $1,500 to enter.
The total purse will be divided by five days. Each day’s purse will be split evenly among those in first, second or third place for white marlin, blue marlin and tuna that day.
If there are no winners for a particular day, the un-won prize money will be split evenly among the purses of the other days.
“It’s been well received so far. A lot of captains and mates love it,” Motsko said. “So many times you hear, ‘I was in the lead for days then I got bumped out.’ For those people we did this. If you’re on the board at the end of the day you’ll get paid.”
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.
“If you’re in the right place at the right time, you have to be prepared when a fish bites,” Hinkle said. “You’ve got to make sure everything is right. There’s a lot of luck with it, but you have to make sure you’re ready.”
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 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, a record 1,429 white marlins were released during the 2019 WMO (98 percent). Only 30 were boated. Forty-seven blue marlins were hooked, and only one was boated. In addition, 13 sailfish and two spearfish were released.
To be a contender in the white marlin division this year, Motsko thinks a fish will need to weigh about 80 pounds.
The tournament minimum is 70 pounds and 68 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.
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 from 4-9:15 p.m. and again, the marina will be closed to the general public.
Homeowners in Harbour Island, their guests, as well as renters and those with boat slips can enter the property. Gathering around the scale is prohibited.
The Reel Inn Restaurant & Dock Bar, located in Harbour Island, will be open to the public during the tournament and following strict covid guidelines.
The weigh-ins will be streamed live on www.whitemarlinopen.com. Daily activity and updates will also be posted on the website and Facebook.
Motsko praised the hard work of his daughters to be able to host the tournament this year.
“My two daughters, Sasha and Madelyne, have done 10 people’s work to date. They’re responsible for all the little details and it’s a lot of them,” he said. “We wouldn’t be having this tournament without them this year. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Motsko said he has been approached by many people thanking him for still putting on the tournament.
“People are stopping me and saying, ‘thank you, we’re glad you’re still doing this, Ocean City needs this,’” he said.
The first White Marlin Open took place in 1974 with 57 boats registered and a guaranteed $20,000 in prize money.
During the 2019 tournament, Hinkle took over first place in the coveted white marlin category the second to last day, 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 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, and because of that his close friends and family have dubbed him “Two-Time Tommy.”
Nathan Walker of Virginia Beach, reeled in a 74-pound marlin aboard Chasin Tail 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 on the second day 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. 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 all week. The fish the Bishopville angler hooked 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. The team won $100,050.
Mjoinir angler Ronnie Fields of Ocean City, landed a 145.5-pound tuna. The fish was worth $128,675.
Mike DiPascali boated a 135-pound tuna, while fishing on The Right Place. The team received $34,110.
Graham Ward reeled in a 121-pound tuna aboard Reeldiculous. 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. They won $24,475.
The Natural angler Kyle McLaughlin reeled in an 82-pound wahoo. 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. They earned $20,380.
The Irene came in second place with Frank Sinito’s (Jupiter, Florida) 39-pound dolphin. 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. 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.
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.
The Big Deal was the top boat of the Open, with 27 white marlins released, to earn 1,960 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.
For more information, visit www.whitemarlinopen.com or call 410-289-9229.
White Marlin Open by the numbers:
57: Number of boats that participated in the first White Marlin Open in 1974.
404: Number of boats that participated in the 46th annual WMO in 2019.
$15,000: Amount of money awarded to Vince Sorenson of New Jersey during the first WMO for his 68.5-pound white marlin.
$1.5 million: Amount the first-place, 79.5-pound white marlin caught by Tommy Hinkle of West Ocean City, was worth in 2019. $6.18 million: Approximate prize money paid out to 2019 WMO winners. *New tournament record.
$1,450: Cost of base entry fee. (This fee makes boats eligible for $50,000 in prize money).
$38,000: Amount (not including base entry fee) for boats under 40 feet (length overall) to enter all 25 added entry levels/calcuttas; $33,500 to enter into 21 added entry levels/calcuttas for boats 40 feet and larger.
99 pounds: Tournament record for a white marlin (1980).
1,459: Number of white marlins caught during the 2019 WMO, and 1,429 were released. *New tournament record. Forty-seven blue marlins were hooked, and only one was boated. In addition, 13 sailfish and two spearfish were released.