While many of the 262 teams that fished this past week’s 40th Annual White Marlin Open out of Ocean City, Maryland, went home with a week full of great memories, a cadre of others attended the event’s awards dinner Saturday and pocketed a check and a handsome trophy to go with those happy recollections.
Tommy Jones and his Kingfisher team from Severna Park, Maryland, came out the biggest winners, accepting more than $1.2 million for an 83-pound white marlin. Another $1.2 million was divvied up among winners in a variety of divisions, including heaviest tuna (a 276-pound bigeye), wahoo (70-pounder), dolphin (34-pounder) and shark (133.5-pound mako), and most releases.
The top boats released a total of seven to nine white marlin each. Of the 394 white marlin reported, 95 percent were released. (Visit the tournament website to see the full results.)
The five-day event pitted teams from all over the East Coast. Boats could choose to fish three of the five days. During my week with Team Contender, we fished Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. And though we did not make the leaderboard, we had three excellent days on the water.
Ocean City is a busy hostess for this event. This top-money competition — considered one of the biggest billfish tournaments in the world — draws not only anglers but curious vacationers, who flock to the weigh-in site at Harbour Island by the thousands. Indeed, many who stayed at the Francis Scott Key Family Resort, where I spent the week, rode a shuttle bus to watch the boats come in with their fish.
At the awards banquet Saturday, I talked informally to several crews. And while the payout certainly is a big draw, many said they fish the WMO because they can focus a whole week of their busy lives on fishing. Some said they hosted clients or they simply enjoyed the camaraderie and history of the event.
In my tournament-fishing and tournament-coverage history, I’ve not seen an event with quite as much community interest. Of course, I — along with my teammates — would have preferred a better showing. But we’ve already started talking about next year. The lessons we learned and the moments we shared were priceless.