Every August, many of the best offshore anglers in the world come to Ocean City, Maryland to compete in the White Marlin Open, called the richest and largest billfish tournament in the world. And this year, the richest ex-pro athlete in America, NBA legend Michael Jordan, will be among those competitors.
The 46th annual tournament, which runs from Monday, August 5 through Friday, August 9, will hand out millions in prize money. Last year’s overall purse was worth more than $5 million, and the outcome wasn’t settled until the very last day of fishing. But what’s $5 million, when you’re worth $1.9 billion?
The docks in Ocean City are buzzing with the addition of Michael Jordan and his 80-foot Viking sportfisher, appropriately named Catch 23, a not-so-subtle nod to Jordan’s jersey number. A quick check of WMO’s website showed that Catch 23 is indeed fishing with an entry number of—yup, you guessed it—123. Tournament organizers didn’t respond to Bay Bulletin when asked if His Airness will actually fish, and so far, nobody we’ve talked to has seen him.
It shouldn’t really surprise anyone that the six-time NBA champion would want to enter into such a highly competitive and potentially lucrative event. His drive to win on the hardwood is legendary, and his affection for wagering large sums of money on golf and cards, especially during his playing career, has been well-publicized. In one famous story Jordan bet his Chicago Bulls teammates that his luggage would come out first on the conveyor belt. Jordan’s bags led the rollout, of course, to win the bet. Later it was reported Jordan supposedly staged (for fun?) the win by paying a baggage handler to put his bags in the queue first. NFL cornerback Adam “Pac Man” Jones tells of the night Jordan lost $5 million at the craps table in Las Vegas.
Boats and anglers can fish a maximum of three out of the five tournament days, though “fun fishing” is allowed on lay days. The basic entry fee is $1,100, with fees for separate categories that rack up prize money. There is no minimum or maximum boat size, though only boats under 40-feet long can enter and receive awards in the Small Boat division. Any angler who wins $50,000 or more in any category is subject to a post-tournament polygraph examination to ensure all rules were followed and protect the integrity of the tournament.
Last year’s White Marlin Open was a real nail biter. Angler Pascual Jimenez from Puerto Aventuras, Mexico and the Weldor’s Ark crew (Morehead City, NC) eked out a win over Gregory Giron and Virginia Beach’s Under Dog team. Both anglers weighed in 83-pound white marlins, with Jimenez checking in his billfish on the final day, just to make things even more interesting. Because Underdog crew gaffed their marlin and the Weldor’s Ark did not, Weldor’s Ark’s was declared the winner per WMO rules.
The white marlin winner took home a world-record $2,584,260, and the $5.45 million-dollar overall payout was the highest of any fishing tournament in history, according to WMO organizers. In 2017, Annapolis angler Glen Frost, fishing on the Wire Nut, decked a monster 95.5-pound white worth $1.6 million. It was the third-largest white marlin ever caught at the tournament, beaten only by the 99-pound record fish caught in 1980 and a 97.5-pounder caught in 2010.
Bay Bulletin will keep you posted on any record catches– or Michael Jordan sightings– once the tournament gets underway Monday.
-Capt. Chris Dollar