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White Marlin Open Tournament Journal, Pre-Trip 1
by Chris Woodward
Contender
Our tournament ride: a tricked-out Contender 39 ST.

I’m starting to get excited. I just made definitive reservations to fish the 40th Annual White Marlin Open — one of the world’s largest billfish tournaments — with the Contender Boats Team, August 5-9 in Ocean City, Maryland!

Last year, 253 boats competed for $2.3 million in prize money. Anglers caught 960 white marlin; 952 were released. I’ve only seen one white marlin in my life, and I have never even fished the mid-Atlantic. Tragic, I know!

True, I won’t be on the rod. Team members Les Stewart Jr. and Tony Novelli from Contender and New Jersey captain Mike Sisto will handle that happy chore. And honestly, I’m relieved not to have that pressure. However, I’ll be documenting our experience with photos, videos, blogs, and social media posts on Sport Fishing's Facebook Page. I'll also be writing a feature article to run in Sport Fishing magazine early next year, so my hands will be full.

Already we have talked initial strategy. Tournaments entail so many details, but just as soon as the chatter starts, adrenaline kicks in. Suddenly you’re as eager as a 2-year-old on Christmas.

Les and Tony are coordinating team members. This is the seventh year Contender has fielded an entry, and Tony — Contender’s Northeast sales manager — participated last year. We’ll use a tricked-out Contender 39 ST with triple Yamaha F350s, Yamaha’s Helm Master system and a gorgeous Guy Harvey wrap. Teams choose three of the tournament’s five days to fish.

Our primary fishing area: Wilmington to Baltimore canyons, 60 to 70 miles from shore. (Sorry, I can’t give away specific secrets!) We’ll troll ballyhoo, Spanish mackerel and squid, accented by some split-tail mullet dredges. Our main target will be white marlin, but bigeye and yellowfin tuna can sweeten the pot. The tournament features multiple prize categories.

“The bigeye bite has been phenomenal the last couple of years,” Tony says. “By early August, the inshore lumps hold a lot too. You can catch a super yellowfin inshore, and wahoo.”

Les, Contender’s director of marketing, told me that one of the company’s goals is to highlight the benefits of fishing a center-console in these blue-water tournaments. “The first-light bite is mostly bigeye, and that’s a great advantage for Contender. We can get out there fast and set up early,” he says. “Also, if you think an area is dead, you can pick up and run 60 miles and not lose half a day.”  

I can’t wait! The new area, the crowds, the action. Even if you’re not a tournament angler, you can catch the fever. You can feel the anticipation for an incredible blue-water journey.