Tommy Jones of Severna Park took the top spot at Ocean City's 40th Annual White Marlin Open Wednesday, catching an 83-pound white marlin that could be worth $980,000 in prize money.
Today is the last day to fish in the tournament, one of the largest billfish competitions in the world, where hundreds of anglers compete to catch the largest tuna, wahoo, shark, dolphin, blue marlin and most importantly, white marlin.
Anglers are allowed three days during the five-day tournament to fish -- with most competitors opting to fish earlier in the week; only 38 boats out of the 262 in the competition are eligible to fish Friday. Still, all it takes is one white marlin to knock Jones off the podium, and this year’s tournament has already been full of surprises.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had a tournament like this,” White Marlin Open president Jim Motsko said. Not only have four anglers caught white marlins weighing exactly 77 pounds this week, Motsko said there is also an unusual abundance of big-eye tuna, a change that he said could be sparked by conservation efforts.
Currently Debbie McCann of the Sea Mistress, Richard Kornahrens of the Lights Out and Larry McKinley of the Sea Toy are all on the leaderboard behind Jones, each with a 77-pound white marlin and an estimated prize of $50,000. Jeremy Duffie of the Billfisher also caught a 77-pound white marlin, but he is not on the leaderboard.
Other big catches include John Simmonds of the Streaker, whose 70-pound wahoo could be worth $20,000, Jeff Collins of the Why Knot, whose 34-pound dolphin could be worth $14,000 and Mike Peet of the No Quarter, whose 133.5-pound shark could be worth $4,000.
Mark Donohue of the Miss Annie is currently leading in the tuna category with a 261.5-pound big-eye worth an estimated $360,000. Behind him is Michael AJamian, with a 255.5-pound tuna worth $60,000.
“I think really the nicest thing [this year] is these big-eye tuna showing up. It adds another realm of excitement to the tournament that really we've never had before,” Motsko said. “We've never had a real good fishery for big-eyes -- and these ain’t little fish.”
AJamian’s boat, the Goin in Deep, has brought in 1,100 pounds worth of meat so far in the tournament, 200 pounds of which will go to the Maryland Food Bank.
So far no blue marlins have qualified for the tournament. Several have been donated to the Maryland Food Bank, which has been collecting meat at the dock right after fish are weighed in.
Butch Langenfelder, food sourcing manager for the food bank, estimated that roughly 1,500 pounds of meat has been donated so far.
August 9 is the last chance to check out the tournament this year. The scales will be open this evening between 4:00 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. at Harbour Island, 14th Street bayside.
If you’ve never been before, go. Beer, music and some really big fish. You won’t find anything else like it.