Dozens of competitors will set out Monday from Morehead City as part of the 55th annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament, which will crown its champion June 15.
Veteran tournament director Crystal Hesmer, a Morehead City native, said the event began in 1957 when a group of local businessmen offered a prize of 250 silver dollars to the first charter boat to bring back a blue marlin.
“At the time they weren’t fishing for marlin off our coast and they weren’t bringing marlin in,” said Hesmer, who has been the director for 16 years.
“It’s a charity event; that’s why we do it. We have a core group of charities including soup kitchens and Boy Scouts, the North Carolina Aquarium and some other things. We also do large impact donations every year – $100,000 or more – that can make a difference.”
About 120 boats entered last year’s event. Hesmer said she would love to see 200 this time, but many of the entries don’t happen until the last minute.
A Sunday night “pig pickin” at 6 p.m. at Morehead City’s Jaycee Park is the scene for many of the entries, with fees ranging from the full $18,000 down to $2,500.
Last year “Flybuoy,” owned by Gary Davis of Charleston, S.C., coasted through the week with a 499.3-pound blue marlin caught the opening day by Todd Baxley of Charleston, winning a first-place prize of $494,710.
“We were hoping it would be 500 pounds and we knew it was close, since there was a prize of $250,000 for the first fish brought in over 500,” Davis said. “ … On Thursday and Friday the weather turned to our favor, with the waves at 12-14 feet and hardly anybody went out. Friday the seas were still at 14 feet and hardly anybody went out. On Saturday a couple of guys went out and some smaller fish were caught.
“But we were on pins and needles from Monday afternoon until 2 p.m. on Saturday. And we won with one of the smallest blue marlins to ever win the Big Rock competition. There were only four of us on the boat. When we pulled up to the dockmaster, they said ‘We want to take a picture of your crew. Where is your crew?’ And it was just Todd, his wife Kathy, me and Robert Hollingsworth.”
In 2011, the first-place payout was $524,000 for the first-place 652.8-pound blue caught by Travis Stephenson of Angier on the “Double B” out of Manteo owned by Harry Smith Jr.
Stephenson, who describes himself as a “fair-weather angler,” was a member of North Carolina’s 1993 NCAA championship basketball team. Before that he starred on the basketball team at Clayton High, where Smith was his classmate.
“People see my name as an angler and think ‘You caught the fish,’ ” said Stephenson, the vice president of sales at Flanders Corp. in Washington, N.C., where Smith is CEO. “But I did very little. It was my turn to sit in the chair and I had the rod.”
Ron Wallschlager caught the largest legal fish in tournament history, an 831-pounder, on Summertime Blues in 2000.
Last-minute entries are open until 9 a.m. Monday.
Hesmer said entries are also still open for the Lady Angler tournament Saturday, an all-release tournament with the proceeds going to a local cancer clinic. Seventy-seven boats entered last year, and entries will be collected at the lady anglers’ reception Friday night at 6 p.m. at the Crystal Coast Civic Center.
For more information, visit www.thebigrock.com or www.crystalcoastnc.org.