Ocean City Today

White Marlin Open  now in 44th year, set to begin Mon.

By Managing Editor, Lisa Capitelli | Aug 03, 2017
Photo by: FILE PHOTO A white marlin is weighed at Harbour Island Marina during the 2016 White Marlin Open. Altogether, 1,366 white marlins where released in 2016, while only 23 were boated. Only one made the minimum tournament qualifications of 70 pounds and 67 inches. The 2017 Open kicks off Monday.



(Aug. 4, 2017) The 44th annual White Marlin Open, one of the largest billfish tournaments in the world, kicks off Monday, with fishing continuing through Friday, Aug. 11.

“Marlin fishing is slow. The No. 1 reason is that not many people are actually trying to fish for white marlin,” Jim Motsko, co-director and founder of the tournament, said earlier this week. “Everyone is content catching tunas. Until the storm (last weekend’s nor’easter), most boats were tuna fishing.

“With the northeast wind the last couple days, some captains feel that’s a good sign,” he added.

Early registration is up by about 20 boats compared to 2016. As of Monday afternoon, 126 boats had already registered for the tournament. Though most crews wait until the final days to register so they can keep an eye on the forecast, more than 65 percent of the boats traditionally return to compete each year. Most of the anglers on those boats are the same, while there are also some changes and additions.

Final registration will take place at Harbour Island Marina on 14th Street this Saturday from noon to 5 p.m., and Sunday from noon until about 7 p.m.

The base entry fee is $1,350 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 21 added entry-level divisions (wagering pools or calcuttas) this year, which range in cost from $50 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.

Sixty boats went across the board last year out of the 329 that participated in the Open.

The cost to enter every calcutta this year for boats under 40 feet long is $30,950, not including the base entry fee. Boats 40 feet and larger are eligible to enter 18 calcuttas at a total cost of $27,450.

The difference in the wagering pools this year is because three are exclusive to the small boat, under 40 feet, category: Level SBW: Small Boat Heaviest White Marlin Winner Take All and Level SBT: Small Boat Heaviest Tuna Winner Take All. They both cost $1,000 to enter. New this year is Level SBBF: Small Boat Big Fish (heaviest white marlin, blue marlin, tuna, dolphin, wahoo or shark) winner take all. It costs $1,500 to enter.

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. A record number of billfish were caught and released last year.

Altogether, 1,366 white marlins where released in 2016, while only 23 were boated for a 98 percent release rate. Twenty-eight blue marlins were released and just two were boated (93 percent). Fifteen spearfish and 11 sailfish were released and none were boated.

To be a contender in the white marlin division this year, the fish will need to weigh at least 75 pounds, Motsko said. The tournament minimum is 70 pounds and 67 inches.

At stake for the successful white marlin angler is prize money that could exceed $1 million. In 2016, 199 boats registered for the Level E Winner Take All calcutta for white marlin, which cost $5,000 to enter. The pot totaled $925,000.

One hundred twenty-one crews registered for the Level WM (White Marlin Winner Take All) added entry-level calcutta, which costs $10,000 to enter. The pool amount was $1,125,000.

To have a chance at prize money in the blue marlin division, Motsko said fish would have to weigh about 700 pounds. The minimum length for blue marlin is 114 inches. There is no weight minimum.

Each boat can 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 catches. 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.

The first White Marlin Open took place in 1974 with 57 boats registered and a guaranteed $20,000 in prize money. A total of 329 boats entered the 2016 tournament and a record $4.42 was awarded to White Marlin Open winners.

Boat participation and payout from 2005 to 2015 was: 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; and 2015, 307/$3,916,840.

“We seem to have a good forecast coming up,” Motsko said.

If the weather is favorable, Motsko anticipates an increase in participation and prize money from last year.

“I feel confident we should do better than last year,” he said.

Motsko said he would like to see 350 boats enter the tournament this year.

“I think the payout will probably be more than last year,” he said. “It would be nice to hit five [million dollars], but I never thought we’d get to four [million]. It will all depend on the weather. I hope we have good weather and set a new record on prize money.”

Several white marlin were brought to Harbour Island Marina last year, but after five days of fishing only one met the weight and length minimums.

Phil Heasley’s 76.5-pound white marlin caught aboard his boat, the Kallianassa out of Naples, Florida, was the only qualifying white marlin. The fish was worth $2,818,662 – a tournament record.

But White Marlin Open organizers announced a few weeks after the event there was a “possible violation” of tournament rules and the prize money would be held pending the determination of the proper recipient.

According to tournament rules, all anglers winning $50,000 or more may be required to take and pass, at the determination of the examiner, a polygraph examination.

The case was first heard in Worcester County Circuit Court and then moved to U.S. District Court. In mid-June, after 10 months of litigation and an eight-day trial, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Bennett ruled that Heasley and the Kallianassa crew should be disqualified because of the apparent rules violations regarding the time of the catch and the failed polygraph exams.

Bennett found the tournament acted within its obligations regarding the polygraph results, and declared Heasley’s lines were in the water earlier than was reported, which is enough for a tournament disqualification alone.

Heasley had also filed counterclaims in the suit, all of which were decided in the tournament’s favor.

Bennett closed the case on July 10, when he signed an order stipulating how the white marlin prize money would be divided among other tournament winners.

Bennett agreed that the biggest chunk of the money – more than $2 million – would go to Richard Kosztyu of Hamilton, New Jersey, who landed a 236-pound tuna while fishing on the Hubris during the 2016 open. The Hubris crew had already received $767,091 for the first-place tuna during the awards banquet following the competition.

Jim Conway of Glen Burnie, Maryland, caught the first-place blue marlin – a 790-pounder – while aboard Get Reel, and was already presented $258,995 in prize money. He is expected to earn $233,000 more. It was the only qualifying blue marlin.

During the 2016 tournament, Get Reel made it to Harbour Island with just a few minutes to spare before the scale closed at 9:15 p.m. on the first day of the Open. The blue marlin was so large they had to tow it in from offshore. Conway fought the fish for about two hours.

“We did all we could to get it on the boat. We tried multiple times – winch lines, tail ropes – it was just too heavy,” Conway said while at the scale that evening. “We got him to the boat at 2:15-2:30 then started heading [to Harbour Island]. We had to stop a couple times and try to get him back up on there [the stern] because it’s a big fish. We didn’t think we were going to make the scales.”

After about a seven-hour ride, the boat pulled up to the dock and spectators could see that the top third of the fish was in the 36-foot boat while the rest of it was in the water. The tail, which was detached from the body, was laying inside the boat.

“The tail rope actually cut it while we were coming back in, in transit,” Conway said.

After several attempts, the White Marlin Open staff pulled the marlin onto the dock. Tournament organizers then discussed whether to weigh the fish or disqualify it because it was considered “mutilated” as the tail was severed.

According to International Game Fish Association (IGFA) rules, “mutilation to the fish, prior to landing or boating the catch, caused by sharks, other fish, mammals, or propellers that remove or penetrate the flesh” is cause for disqualification.

Since the tail was lost after Conway landed the fish, it was eligible to be weighed.

It measured 117 inches without the tail. The next issue was how to weigh the fish. Typically, fish are weighed by the tail and hung vertically. Dock crew attempted to hook the marlin under its gills to weigh it, but that didn’t work. They next wrapped ropes around the body and hoisted it up horizontally.

The fish, without the tail, weighed 790 pounds. The tail weighed 29 pounds. The official weight was registered at 790 pounds.

While Kosztyu won the tuna division, Mark Hutchison of Cordova, Maryland, reeled in the second-heaviest – a 233-pound big eye – aboard Magic Moment. He and his teammates won $131,968. The crew is expected to receive $123,000 in additional prize money from the suit. Ten additional anglers – the winners in the other tournament divisions – will also be compensated.

On Wednesday of this week, Heasley filed a notice of appeal of last month’s U.S. District Court decision.

“The case didn’t bother entry at all. We’re ahead for pre-registration, so if anything, it was good for us,” Motsko said. “If anything, it assures we always do the right thing and we always do what’s best … and that polygraphs seem to work.”

Dave Arnold took third in the tuna division with the 71.5-pound yellowfin caught aboard American Lady. The team received $52,126.80. Pat Horning hooked a 71.5-pound yellowfin tuna while on Fish Whistle. The crew won $5,626.75. John Hoffman’s 67-pound yellowfin landed aboard Reel Direct was worth $30,504.

John Sharp’s 39-pound mahi took over first place in the dolphin division the final day of the 2016 tournament. Sharp and his Sea Flame teammates earned $17,717.50. Brian Russell tied for second place with the 36-pounder he caught aboard Sea Wolf. Reel Joy angler John Gudelsky landed a 36-pound dolphin as well. The payout for Russell’s fish was $14,967.50, while Gudelsky’s was $16,217.50 because of added entry-level participation.

Shannon Mills reeled in a 35.5-pound dolphin aboard Sea Breeze. The group took home $13,717.50. Thomas Bennett’s 34.5-pound dolphin hooked on Delta Dawn was worth $13,717.50.

Richard Hammond was in first place in the wahoo division after five days of fishing. He hooked the 79-pounder aboard Two Timing Connie. The team was presented $24,862.50.

The Second Chance finished in the second-place spot with Brian Leader’s 54-pound wahoo. The crew pocketed $3,000. Daniel Stuart’s 41-pound wahoo landed aboard Got Fish Too was worth $24,862.50. The No Service crew received $22,862.50 for Steve Figiel’s 40.5-pound wahoo.

The payout for JD Messler’s 260.5-pound hammerhead shark caught aboard MJ’s was $4,500.

Hunter Pusey’s 223-pound mako shark reeled in aboard Rumor Has It earned the angler and his teammates $3,500.

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.

329: Number of boats that participated in the 43rd annual WMO in 2016.

$15,000: Amount of money awarded to Vince Sorenson of New Jersey during the first WMO for his 68.5-pound white marlin.

$2.8 million: Amount the first-place, 76.5-pound white marlin was worth in 2016. **It was caught by Phil Heasley (Naples, Florida) aboard the Kallianassa, but he was disqualified following a judge ruling that lines were in the water too early and the marlin was caught prior to the Open’s official time to begin fishing.

$4.42 million: Approximate prize money paid out to 2016 WMO winners. *New tournament record.

$1,350: Cost of base entry fee. (This fee makes boats eligible for $50,000 in prize money).

$30,950: Amount (not including base entry fee) for boats under 40 feet (length overall) to enter all 21 added entry levels/calcuttas; $27,450 to enter into 18 added entry levels/calcuttas for boats 40 feet and larger.

99 pounds: Tournament record for a white marlin (1980).

1,366: Number of white marlins released during the 2016 WMO. Only 23 were boated. In addition, 28 blue marlins were released and just two were boated. Fifteen spearfish and 11 sailfish were released and none were boated. *A record number of billfish were released in 2016.

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