OCEAN CITY - Ken Coffer hit it big during the opening hours of the 32nd White Marlin Open. Then, he went through four anxious days, wondering if his catch would hold up as hundreds of anglers tried to top him.
Last night at Harbour Island Marina, with several thousand spectators watching the weigh-ins as the tournament's last boats and yachts came home, Coffer finally exhaled, knowing a huge payday was coming his way.
Coffer, 39, of Carolina Beach, N.C., won an estimated $1.65 million - a record purse for the tournament - after catching a 78.5-pound white marlin aboard the Desperado on Monday about 75 miles offshore in Washington Canyon.
Coffer, who is celebrating his 10th wedding anniversary this weekend, was scheduled to receive his winnings today.
"I just won the Super Bowl," said Coffer, whose winning fish was the first one weighed on Monday. After fishing on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, thus reaching the three-day limit, he stayed in Ocean City yesterday.
"Me and my wife [Kim] have been pacing the floor since 4:30 a.m. [Friday], sweating bullets. I was watching all the boats going out. Then I tried to lay down and I couldn't go to sleep. My phone was ringing off the hook. I watched the scales for about four hours [yesterday], but by 8 o'clock, I couldn't take it anymore."
Coffer, who said his previous top earnings in competition was $20,000, plans to split the pot four ways with his crew. He beat out Scott Knoff, who caught a 74.5-pounder aboard the South Jersey Champion. Knoff's catch was worth about $199,862.
The blue marlin competition ended on a more dramatic note when Greg Reynolds of Falls Church, Va., fishing aboard Trophy Hunter, brought home a 656-pound catch late last night - the last fish weighed in the tournament - and took home the top prize in the division of about $460,678.
That knocked Gardner Britt into second place. Britt had led for two days after catching a 549.5-pound blue aboard Seven, but had to settle for an estimated second-place prize of $198,862.
A record 449 boats entered the competition, which is believed to be the largest and most lucrative billfish tournament in the world. A record $2.7 million in prize money was expected to be awarded.
After just 175 boats went out on Thursday, 344 anglers fished yesterday.
Weather was favorable throughout the tournament, unlike a year ago when high winds and tropical storm warnings dominated the week. Before the tournament, there was concern that Tropical Storm Irene would keep the field down.
It didn't happen.
"We had a lot of small boats [25- to 30-footers] jump in at the last minute because of the [favorable] weather forecast. They weren't affected," said Jim Motsko, one of the tournament's founders and directors.
"Nothing crazy was forecast for the whole week. It made things a lot easier. People could spread out their three days [of fishing]."
In the tuna category, Fred Renaud won an estimated $123,228 after catching a 254.5-pounder aboard the Dorothy Jo on Wednesday.
Russell Franklin won an estimated $4,000 in the dolphin competition by catching a 50.5-punder aboard Prime Time. In the wahoo category, Alan Downs won with a 73-pounder he caught aboard Bad Habit.