The anglers aboard the “Drillin & Billin” boat saved their best for last at the 47th annual White Marlin Open in Ocean City.
Ellicott City native Taylor Fields reeled in and landed a 77-pound white marlin on Aug. 7, and with it secured the boat a second-place finish in the tournament. That catch, which turned out to be the final one of the weekend among the six anglers aboard the boat, was worth $1.76 million in prize money.
“Since I was a kid, I’ve just wanted to go to the scales with anything … a dolphin, a tuna, literally anything. So that experience in itself was unreal, but then to hear the 77 [pounds] was just truly a dream come true,” said Fields, a 1998 graduate of Centennial High School. “You can fish your entire life and never catch something like that. So to then have it be in the biggest tournament there is. … I can still barely believe it.”
Fields said it took him 35 minutes to reel in the marlin and he knew pretty quickly once it landed that it was something special.
“When the boat landed it, we all went nuts. We were hugging and going crazy. You can tell even without measuring when it’s a big one,” Fields said. “But once we finished fishing and headed back and were waiting to go to the scales, the nerves started taking over. I was honestly pretty sick to my stomach with how nervous I was.
“It’s one of those things where you know its close, but until you get to the scales and hear the number you hold your breath.”
Fields was joined by fellow fishermen Jared Albert, Edward Amos, Brian Eder, Jamie List and Mike Simpson on the boat, which had Lee Martin as captain and Harrison Stone as mate. All the anglers have Baltimore-area ties, with several having grown up together as longtime friends, while Martin and Stone are from North Carolina.
“It’s kind of crazy how we’re all connected one way or another and these fishing tournaments are what bring us all back together each year,” said Albert, who is a Howard County teacher living in Canton and has been the varsity boys basketball coach at Atholton High School in Columbia since 2012. “We’re definitely not as serious as some of the other guys out here at these things, but we have a blast.”
For “Drillin & Billin” boat owner Amos, a Woodbine resident who was born and raised in Ellicott City, the tournaments are as much about the camaraderie as they are about winning.
“We always say that when we untie that boat, we’ve already won. I mean, there’s something to be said for just getting to go on a million dollar boat and go fishing with these guys,” said Amos, who is President and CEO of REV Drill Sales & Rentals in Frederick. “Honestly, I think we do well because we are all so close.”
The weeklong event in Ocean City this year featured 433 registered boats and a world record total payout of $6.8 million.
Amos said it was by far the biggest catch he’s had in this event, which he’s been participating in for the past 15 years. In 2009, he came in second in the tuna division.
Last year, on the same “Drillin & Billin” boat competing in the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament in North Carolina, his team finished second in the release division for a prize of $180,000. But nothing compared to this year.
“I’ve hung a big fish before, so I know what that feels like. But this was beyond anything I had imagined when I bought the boat [three years ago],” Amos said. “The White Marlin Open is the big one … it’s our Super Bowl.”
Martin has been captain of the boat for the last two years and has had his license for 16 years.
Following catching three fish on Thursday, things started fast on Friday with three catches before 9:30 a.m. roughly 75 miles off the coast of Ocean City. After bringing in another one shortly after, Martin said he circled around again and just before 11 a.m. the fifth catch of the day turned out to be the big one.
“I was in the zone and we were hot, so I wasn’t leaving that spot. All five of our fish that day were caught within a mile-and-a-half of each other,” Martin said.
Each of the anglers had agreed ahead of time on a set order for when it would be their turn to bring in a catch and Fields happened to draw the lucky straw for Friday’s big prize. And while he was the one to reel it in, Fields was quick to credit the team.
“Everyone is doing something … the captain hooks it from the bridge, hands it to the angler while everyone else is cranking on different lines, bringing in the dredges and teasers. Each of us played a part in making this happen,” Fields said. “I happened to be the guy up at the right time, but it could have been any one of us.”
At the time it was weighed on Friday, the catch put the team in first place. It wasn’t until Saturday that the “Canyon Blues” team from Ocean City brought it a 97-pound white marlin — the third largest white marlin weighed in tournament history — to take over first place for good and secure a top prize of $1.85 million.
There was another boat, the “Crisdel,” that caught a 77-pound white on Saturday, but “Drillin & Billin” ended up winning the tie-breaker because it did not gaff their fish. Stone had a huge role in that.
“I’ve seen it go to a tie breaker before in other tournaments so I’m always the guy going for the grab with my bare hands and pulling it over the side that way,” said Stone, a 22-year old mate from Manteo, N.C. “We knew from the bite that it was going to be a fish that was going to be looked at closely, so I wasn’t taking any chances.”
While fishing is important to all members of the team, it’s just a piece of the puzzle.
Eder, for example, is general manager of a bar in Baltimore called “The Chasseur.” List works for the Howard County fire department and Simpson, another Centennial High grad, works with Amos at Rev Drill.
For most, the respective share of the prize money is “life-changing.”
“We are out there to compete, but it’s 100% fun. We’re not professionals, just a bunch of guys who love to fish. So to land one like this and take home a prize this big, it’s something that none of us will ever forget,” Amos said.