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Ava D and Chainlink finished their 2014 Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament at the weigh station Thursday before a cheering crowd.
While neither boated a blue big enough to challenge the 754.3-pounder hooked on the opening day, both leave the 56th annual event having brought a blue marlin to the scales along the Morehead City waterfront.
Goldsboro-based Chainlink, which hooked a big blue just minutes after lines were allowed in the water at 9 a.m., was first on the scene, bringing in a 412.7-pounder that knocked Carnivore’s 410.7-pounder out of third place.
It was a short-lived stay in the top three, however.
About 90 minutes later Ava D, captained by Havelock’s Jerry Jackson, backed into the weigh station and saw a 491.7-pound big blue hoisted up on the scales, allowing it to supplant Chainlink in third.
With the two blues brought the scales Thursday afternoon, five big blues have now met the minimum requirements (400 pounds or 110 inches) for the Big Rock this year, marking the most since seven measured up in 2007.
Both boats fished each of the first four days of the week-long event – the allowable number for the 120-boat field. So both won’t be fishing the final two days.
Worse still for Ava D, it just missed out on earning the Fabulous Fisherman’s prize of $306,000 that goes to the boat that brings in the first 500-pound blue marlin to the dock.
“He looked big when he hit,” said angler Gray Hardison, 53, of Bayboro. “But you never can tell. I was hoping we would (win the Fabulous Fisherman’s prize), but we didn’t. We got close.”
Inspiration, which is leading with its 754.3-pounder, and Eye Catcher, which is second with a 606.9-pounder, didn’t enter the levels required to earn the Fabulous Fisherman’s prize.
Ninety-six boats went out Thursday in conditions that included rain but then cleared up and gave way to what Hardison called “a beautiful day, hot but beautiful.”
Ava D, which docks between Jackson’s homes in Hatteras and the Havelock area, hooked its marlin at 11:43 a.m. and it took about an hour to bring the fish alongside the 61-foot Gillikin.
“We just found a real pretty place off shore,” Jackson said. “We had a lot of bait on it. ... We saw a lot of fish on it. We had a couple dolphin hits. We just stuck it out and he hit it ... and an hour later we had him in the boat.
“He jumped a lot when he first hit. He came around beside the boat and then he went down. We didn’t see him again until we got him to the boat.”
It was the first big blue brought to the Big Rock scales for both Jackson and Hardison, who have fished in the tournament for a number of years.
Asked about the fight, Hardison described it in three words: “Pull and snatch.” Elaborating, he credited the crew, saying “everything worked right ..., and we got it done. That’s all I can tell you. All the guys pitched in, and we got a fish.”
Hardison was asked what it was like to back into the weigh station with the throng of observers anxious to see the big blue.
“It’s great,” he said, before adding with a chuckle: “It makes you want to run.”
Not so, Jackson said.
“I don’t think there’s anything better than backing into the big rock with a fish,” he said. “That’s pretty special, no question about it.”
Perhaps not as special, however, as Chainlink angler Ben Seegars, whose father, Wes, won this tournament in 2006 with a 501.5-pound blue marlin aboard the same boat.
Moreover, the younger Seegars’ 8-year-old son, Ben Jr., was on the 54-foot Jarrett Bay with both father and grandfather.
“It was awesome,” Seegars said. “And I was so pumped that my son was on the boat. He happened to be on the bridge when the fish bit. ... He was literally 12 feet from the corner of the boat when he hit. So everybody could see it.”
The fight was short, lasting about 20 minutes.
“It probably jumped about 20 times,” said Seegars, 37, of Goldsboro. “So that was really cool.”
It was the first blue marlin the Chainlink had hooked this week, but not the first for either Seegars or Capt. Ralph Griffin, who while happy with the catch was a bit anxious about the arrival at the weigh station.
“It’s pretty exciting, really exciting,” he said. “It’s nerve-racking when you back in here and there’s 3,000 people standing on the dock. The rest of it’s not bad.”
Rick Scoppe is a reporter for the Jacksonville Daily News.