The purse for this year's tournament is $2,869,050
MOREHEAD CITY — Many boat owners and captains participating in the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament have said the most prestigious blue water fishing event along the East Coast is more than just about the purse – which this year is a record $2,869,050.
They cite the comradery the tournament provides among those who hit the water, they credit the Big Rock’s devotion to charity and they talk about the thrill of bringing in a big blue into the scales in front of a cheering crowd.
“You spend the money and it goes away,” said Sea Striker owner Adrian Holler of Morehead City. “But having your name on the wall at the Big Rock, that’s special.”
Holler is certainly Big Rock royalty, having won the tournament in 1995 and 2001. Given his tenure at the event, perhaps it safe to say that he’s knows the ins and outs of the event as much as anyone else that fishes.
And when asked if there was any concern that Hurricane Florence in September would have an effect on this year’s 61st annual tournament, Holler simply shrugged.
“Not that I know of,” he said. “There’s just the normal excitement, enthusiasm and anxiety. I don’t think the hurricane had a big impact on anything.”
Top Dog Captain Ryan Knapp of Ocean City, Maryland, agreed that Florence hasn’t had a negative effect on this year’s fishing action.
“It’s never really fazed us,” he said. “In my opinion, there’s not another competition in the East Coast that has this many participants. We all come together to support this place and to me, that’s what it’s all about. We were going to come anyways.”
For the record, 184 boats are entered this year. Last year’s purse was $2,560,925.
“A hurricane won’t stop us,” said Piracy Captain Chris Russell of Morehead City. “We take it on the chin and keep going at it. Maybe this will be a little cheer to the county.”
But while the competition aspect of the Big Rock wasn't hurt by Florence, some have said the business side of things have had to be altered following the hurricane.
"We weren’t really worried about the boat total (but) we were about the hotels and motels,” Big Rock Director Crystal Hesmer said. “There was such a shortage. It wasn’t just for the boaters, but also the spectators that were affected because there weren’t as many places to stay. We were concerned about that.”
And yet the gatherings have been good for the marlin and game fish weigh-ins.
“The crowds seem as big as it has ever been,” Hesmer said. “I think we are blessed.”
Wolverine Captain Rocky Hardison of Beaufort agreed.
“There was a little concern about the hotels still renovating …, but it looks like everybody came out,” he said. “It’s good to see everybody.”
Having a $2.8 million purse doesn’t seem to hurt things, either. But what’s the reason for the growth in purse?
The economy, Hesmer said.
“When the economy is doing well, the purse goes up. It’s the nature of our business,” Hesmer said. “The boats are getting bigger. We’ve seen more 80s here than we ever have before. We raised our levels a little, but the economy is doing well. So more people are entering more levels.”
All in hopes of bringing in a blue marlin. Entering Wednesday, nine big blues have been brought in. Wolverine entered the third day as the leader following a 588.9-pound catch Monday.
Sweetums of Dallas Captain Pete Rae, formerly of Morehead City, earned $531,250 for winning the Fabulous Fisherman level that award the boat that boats the first marlin weighing in at least 500 pounds.
“I guess that makes it more fun,” said angler Scott Dewolf of Plano, Texas. “Am I right?”
Chris Miller can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 910-219-8472. Follow him on twitter @jdnsports. For digital subscription information, click here.