Getting to the fish can require a long, bumpy ride on a good day, and rough weather might mean not venturing offshore at all.
But smaller boats – if you call 28- and 33-footers “small” – gave vessels twice their size a run for their money in the 56th Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament out of Morehead City.
A late Day 6 hookup on the 28-foot, 8-inch True World named Tidal Volume sent the June 9-14 contest to overtime Saturday and brought tense moments with the potential topping of the 754.3-pound Day 1 catch by the 55-foot Jarrett Bay Inspiration. But the challenger was released, giving the victory and $306,137 to Inspiration captain Casey Wagner of Morehead City and angler Bruce Brown of Nags Head.
“It was a great way to end the tournament for them and for us,” Tidal Volume captain Michael Biggerstaff, a Greenville anesthesiologist and avid angler, said by phone Monday night. “I hope more small boats like mine enter this in the future. We have just as much chance of catching at least a gamefish as the big boat.”
The team entered at the $2,500 level, targeted gamefish, not billfish, and put mahi-mahi in the freezer. And they showed smaller boats can share the purse, which reached nearly $1.4 million with 120 entries.
Tournament director Crystal Hesmer said 24 boats, far more than usual, were less than 50 feet in length. A new structure has doubled to 60 the number of daily and weekly prizes.
“This was certainly one of the best Big Rocks,” Hesmer said, citing “over-the-top excitement on Monday and great fishing all week with 126 billfish released.”
Craig Clark entered three levels plus Winner-Take-All Dolphin, splitting a $10,000 fee five ways for his Rampage Express 33 named Purple Pirate out of Morehead City. Clark said his crew’s “hearts sunk like a rock” as the Core Sound 55 Gamekeeper out of Wilmington weighed a 77.2-pound wahoo. But Purple Pirate’s wahoo weighed 77.8 to win $3,000.
The difference between large and small boats is the ability to reach the fishing grounds on rough days, Clark said. Small boats might stay docked.
“But,” he said, “once you get there and can fish, you’re not so much at a disadvantage as long has you have a good crew, good mate and proper equipment.”
Big Rock fixture
Local favorite Casey Wagner and his Inspiration crew and family had a great week, even with a scare from Tidal Volume.
“We had our whole team together, all wives and children and everybody, and of course somebody hooks up right at the last minute,” Wagner said Tuesday night. “We had to postpone about 30 minutes until they released their big fish.”
Wagner then celebrated besting a 606.9-pound fish caught aboard Eye Catcher, a Garlington 61 out of Wrightsville Beach with captain Burrows Smith and angler Randy Kelley, and the Gillikin 61 Ava D out of Hatteras with a 491.4-pounder by Jerry Jackson and Gray Hardison.
Inspiration, including Wagner, daughter Caroline, 15, and son Cole, 18, had one blue marlin release to place second in the June 7 Keli Wagner Lady Angler Tournament, named for their late wife and mother. Bill Collector, a Jarrett Bay 51 out of Morehead City with anglers Linda G. Rice and Jill Wilson and captain Stephen Draughon, released one blue and one sailfish to win.
Results are at www.thebigrock.com.
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