Bill Woody had made up his mind prior to the 2012 White Marlin Open that this would be the last time he competed in what is billed as the world's largest sportfishing tournament.

It wasn't so much how expensive sportfishing had become in the dozen years since this self-made Baltimore businessman had bought his 50-foot Hatteras, as much as it was the hours that he devoted to it.

Woody said he felt he was missing out on other activities with his family.

It was similar to the years when he was building the engineering and land surveying firm that he worked for and later bought from its original owners.

The 66-year-old Woody, who describes himself as a "poor boy from West Baltimore", thought back then that he needed to spend more of time with his wife, Carla, and their two daughters.

"It takes a lot of dedication, where you come home from work at 9 or 10 at night and all you get to do is kiss the kids good night," Woody said .

Woody had entered the White Marlin Open for a 10th time this year, not expecting more than three days of fishing with neighbors Kevin Anderson and Dave Rivello and his son-in-law, Jerry Groves, along with the North Carolina-based captain and two-man crew.

In his previous nine tries in the tournament, Woody had never come close to catching a white that weighed enough or was long enough to fit the tournament's requirements.

"Whenever I caught one, I had to release it," he said.

This year was different — a $1.4 million difference as it turned out.

As he saw the white marlin get closer to the boat, he could tell "it carried its weight well." There was also a momentary fear "that we were going to break the line" as it thrashed about in the water.

When Woody and those on his boat reeled in their prized catch a couple of weeks ago, he thought it had a chance. Not to win the tournament that would pay out over $2.3 million in prize money, but at least to place in the top three. He could tell by the fact that the fish "nearly spooled out" nearly all of the 600 yards of line that had extended into the waters off Ocean City.

But after it turned out that the white marlin measured 72 inches in length (more than 4 inches above the prescribed length needed to be counted), and weighed 72 pounds. While it certainly qualified, Woody didn't think he stood a chance at winning the tournament's biggest prize.

It was only the third day of the five-day event and Woody knew that other winning hauls had usually been between 80 and 90 pounds in recent years.

Most of the white marlins that were caught and killed this year weighed only about 65 pounds, or even less, Woody said.

"Evidently, it [the fish he caught] was eating well," Woody joked.

When he got the call a few days later informing him that his white marlin had been the largest caught, Woody was stunned.

And humbled.

"It's hard to describe," Woody said a few days after getting the news of his big haul, the third-largest prize given out according to tournament officials. "It's very difficult to explain. There's so much satisfaction. It's like winning the Super Bowl of sportfishing."

But for Woody, there was more than that. It was the satisfaction of handing over a check for more than $420,000 to Tom Harris, the boat's captain, and his two mates, Alan Scibel and Tom Bennett. Woody learned that Harris' wife had just graduated from nursing school and that Scibel was about to get married.

"I feel like I've been very blessed to be able to do that," Woody said.

There was another feeling that seemed to overwhelm Woody as he accepted congratulatory phone calls, emails and text messages from his friends in Pasadena and Ocean City, where he has homes. It came from the memories Woody had of growing up and fishing on the Chesapeake with his grandparents.

"I really developed a love for the water because my grandparents took me fishing," he said.

That love was put on hold after Woody graduated Southern High School, went straight to work and learned to become a land surveyor. He eventually worked for and later bought out the two partners in KCW Civil Engineering and Land Surveying.

It was even put on hold as his two daughters were growing up.

Woody can recall being on vaction in Ocean City years ago when he saw fishing boats with a variety of flags hoisted on them. He didn't know it at the time, but he was watching tournaments similar to the one he won — the flags represent each different type of fish being caught. Woody estimates that he has raised at least seven different flags over the last decade.

Woody had earned some money sportfishing to help defray the cost for the upkeep of the boat, "but nothing close to this."

But Woody was thinking more about what the prize money could do for his young captain and mate rather than himself.

"I'm a very private man," Woody said. "I've worked hard to support my family and to be able to do this for somebody else, I feel very fortunate. I'm a person who likes to please others."

Woody shared the experience with his family. Carla Woody, who also enjoys fishing, was there for the weigh-in and wondered whether her husband could follow through with his plans to hang up his sportfishing gear.

"When you win a tournament like that, it might be hard to quit," she said Friday. "I don't know if it'll be one of those moments where you can go out in a blaze of thunder."

Woody competed in last week's Mid-Atlantic 500, a grueling three days where Woody said he was getting up at 3:30 a.m. and not getting done until 8 p.m. He has started playing golf and winning the White Marlin Open is akin to putting on a green jacket after the Masters.

"I would have been happy to finish third," he said. "To win it, is just amazing."

don.markus@baltsun.com

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