An Ocean City sportfishing team is back from North Carolina’s Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament $800,000 richer, after landing a tournament-record 900-plus-pound marlin.
TOP DOG Sportfishing won first place in the blue marlin division, good for $793,187.50 at the 61st annual tournament in Morehead City, North Carolina.
TOP DOG’s 914-pound marlin smashed the old tournament record of 831 pounds, and the captain tells Bay Bulletin, it’s the second largest blue marlin ever caught in Morehead history.
The boat’s crew certainly earned their portion of the winnings— it took eight hours to reel the fish in and haul it aboard. Captain Ryan Knapp says hooking the monster marlin was an all-time high, and the struggle to get control of it could have made for an all-time low.
Knapp says the fish jumped twice, then pulled the line deep into the ocean. “She was real stubborn,” he says, and the crew cranked the marlin all the way back up to the surface, six inches at a time. Then came the real test: bringing it onto the boat.
Knapp says the three men on deck had to push themselves to the limit to pull the marlin out of the water, expending great effort and sometimes only managing to move it 1/4 of an inch.
“It’s the ultimate moment… you catch this fish, and you know what you’ve got!” Knapp recounts. “You’re physically touching $800,000 and then you think, what if we can’t get this in.”
They eventually managed to position the fish in such a way that it was just out of the water for the 35-mile ride back to the dock. If seas had been rougher, Knapp says he’s not sure they’d have held onto the fish.
“I can’t tell you how many times I looked behind me during that whole three hours,” he admits.
Even measuring the fish on the dock proved challenging, as the 176-inch- marlin was too long to hoist above ground. Tournament officials wound up “bending it like a banana” just to fit.
The TOP DOG team was ecstatic with the results. At the dock, owner Todd Dickerson told local TV station WNCT that his father, who introduced him to fishing in Ocean City, had recently passed away, and it was only fitting that the big win came on Father’s Day weekend.
For his part, Knapp says simply, “It was our turn!”
Earlier this spring, he estimates there was a 25-day stretch where the TOP DOG crew only hooked one marlin, before going on a streak and catching eight or nine in just one week. Knapp says a lot of it has to do with luck, but the crew did follow a new strategy for their final day in the tournament, staying just at the edge of the gulf stream. Too far in, the current moves at up to three knots, and the water is at least 80 degrees, Knapp explains, and no fish wants to stick around in water that fast and that warm. But at the edge, it’s cooler and only moves about one knot. That’s where the team hooked their history-making fish.
TOP DOG’s crew arrived home at Sunset Marina in Ocean City Tuesday afternoon, and will launch right back into tournament season in a couple of weeks. They’ll compete at least six or seven more times, including at August’s White Marlin Open, where the prize money is even sweeter.
-Meg Walburn Viviano