Aboard boats large or small, the teams in the June 12-17 Big Rock Blue Marlin Fishing Tournament out of Morehead City will be competing for a share of a record $2.3 million purse.
The 59th edition of the charity benefit had 172 entries by 5 p.m. Sunday, pushing the purse past $2 million for the first time, tournament director Crystal Hesmer said.
Last year’s purse was $1.91 million. Some of this year’s growth is attributed to an additional prize level with a $2,500 entry fee.
“But we’ve also had more people enter at all levels,” Hesmer said.
Additional entries were possible before the boats headed into the Atlantic Ocean on Monday morning with hopes of catching billfish and gamefish and perhaps weighing in the heaviest blue marlin at Big Rock Landing headquarters.
Last year, the Ashley Lauren, with captain Mark Annis of Clayton and angler Doug Phillips of Garner, weighed in a 621.4-pound blue marlin to top a field of 174 boats to win $662,995 from the $1,914,100 purse.
In comparison, the purse for Saturday’s Belmont Stakes thoroughbred race was $1.5 million.
Anticipation is high, Hesmer said, because the record 144 entries in Saturday’s Keli Wagner Lady Angler tournament produced 38 billfish releases, including a blue marlin release, a white marlin release and a tie-breaking dolphin weigh-in for the winning Delta Dawn team.
A good weather prediction helps, too, said Van Pierce of Trinity, overall runner-up and winner of the Big Rock’s inaugural outboard division for smaller boats in 2015.
“The weather is looking really good,” said Pierce, owner and captain of the 40-foot Winter named EZ Boy. “It levels the playing field out when you’ve got smaller boats and the weather cooperates.”
Entries so far ranged from the 24-foot Albemarle named Jolly Roger with Winterville-based ownership to the 85-foot Scarborough named El Cazador out of Quitman, Texas.
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