White Marlin Open – Ocean City, MD
Sometimes bigger really is better.
In the case of fishing at the White Marlin Open, bigger means a better payday.
253 boats set out in the Atlantic Ocean over 4 days with dreams of catching fish much larger than your average “thiiiiiis big” anecdote. Anglers cast their lines into the deep blue sea looking to hook one of six different types of fishes: white marlin, blue marlin, tuna, wahoo, dolphin fish, and shark. The weight of the fishes caught spanned anywhere from 30 pounds to nearly 300 pounds, which pales in comparison to the 1,500 pound blue marlin that went uncaught during the tournament, but still very impressive nonetheless.
The White Marlin Open celebrated its 39th year this year, and is the world’s largest billfish tournament. Ocean City is known as the “White Marlin Capital of the World”, and the tournament attracts anglers from all over the world and this year had an estimated total prize money payout of $2,307,000. The tournament encourages non-lethal tag and release for many of the fishes caught, but winning marlins and other larger fish are often brought back to the marina for verification of size and weight.
Even though only a small portion of the state of Maryland has Atlantic coastline, Ocean City has become one of the state’s biggest tourist attractions, and in the summer months, the city swells to being the second largest city in the state. In addition to typical beach-going activities, Ocean City is a popular game fishing and charter fishing destination because of its abundance of bigger fish. White marlin specifically come to the waters off the coast of Maryland after spawning and migrating from the subtropics. They tend to prefer deep blue ocean water over 330 feet below the surface, and are widely considered to be a rare and solitary species relative to other similar fish.
Which ties right into the White Marlin Open. “Why so much prize money for catching fish?” you might have asked yourself as you first read the amount of prize money given away at the tournament. Well, these fish are really freaking hard to catch! These guys aren’t throwing out nets and catching schools of fish that end up packed inside of tin cans. No, the anglers at the White Marlin Open are armed with a fishing pole, some heavy duty fishing lines, bait, and a hook. Searching the deep waters for elusive and gargantuan fish, a bite on the line is merely the beginning for these fishermen. Once a fish is on the line, anglers take to their respective “fighting chairs” (swivels seats with a fishing pole brace) and attempt to reel in their fish for the next 45 minutes to 3 hours.
Yes you read that correctly. Sometimes it takes 3 full hours just to reel in one of these fishes! Because these giant fish are trying to, you know, NOT get reeled in and are using their considerable size and power to swim the other way. Not to break down why it’s called “fishing” and not “catching”, but it’s safe to say that the odds of getting one of these fishes on board during the 4 day tournament is pretty slim. Many anglers have spent years fishing in the White Marlin Open without ever catching a qualifying fish. When they do though, it’s time to show it off back at the docks, which is the only real spectator aspect of the tournament. Hundreds of people crowd the scales to get a look at these magnificent fish, many of which are longer than most people are tall. The bigger the fish, the more “oooooohhhhs” and “aaaahhhhhs” elicited from the fun and festive crowd.
Giant tuna are considerably more impressive in person, with a shimmering blue skin and bright yellow fins, I found myself looking at these fish that weight more than me and wondering just how many spicy tuna rolls could be made from one of them (To be fair, it had been quite a while since we’ve gotten good sushi). But as big and thrilling as the tuna and other fish are, it’s really the white marlin that people are here to see. They know how hard the fish are to catch, so seeing a qualifying white marlin (70 lbs. and 67 inches long) is a special occasion.
And the fans weren’t disappointed this year. Bill Duffy on the local boat “Blew Bayou” brought in a white marlin to be weighed on the third day of the tournament. Catching several other white marlins on the day, the fish he brought in to weigh was dangerously close to being below the qualification standards. After measuring in at 70 inches, the anticipation of the anglers and the crowd was thick as the fish was being weighed. When the announced weight was 72 pounds, the crowd erupted and the fishermen on the “Blew Bayou” finally let out the pent-up emotion. Duffy had been fishing the White Marlin Open for 9 years without the greatest of luck, but on this day he fought the seas and tipped the scales just enough to make a sizable impact. And oh by the way, that “sizable impact” ended up being $1.4 million in prize money for the only qualifying white marlin caught in the tournament, making up for the previous 9 years of disappointment.
Because at the White Marlin Open, in terms of fish on the scales and numbers on the check, bigger really means better.
Here’s a video from the White Marlin Open showing the weigh-ins from Day 3 of the tournament, featuring Bill Duffy’s $1.4 million white marlin, as well as a (very quick) cameo from Couple of Sports: