Lauren Dudley doesn’t think of herself as a competitive fisherman.
“I’m not, really,” the Washington, N.C., native said. “My husband (Stuart) does it a lot. I had fished at Big Rock with him a couple times, but I’m usually just along for the ride.”
That all changed at the start of the month, when she talked him into taking his 30-foot outboard, the Enough, out for the Keli Wagner Lady Angler tournament, a women’s competition held the day before the start of Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament.
“I convinced him to take myself and a few friends out there for the ladies,” Dudley said. “We had never done the Ladies’ Big Rock before. I usually let him do all the competitive stuff.”
It turned out to be a very profitable decision. Dudley hooked a 52.7-pound dolphin, the biggest of the day.
“There are a couple of different categories,” she explained. “There’s the dolphin tournament — for $500, you can enter, and if you catch the biggest dolphin, you win $6,000-$7,000.”
That would have been a good payday in itself, but Dudley also entered a $500 calcutta — kind of a winner-take-all side bet between boats.
“That’s what paid the big money,” Dudley explained.
When the dust cleared, the big fish netted her $71,571 for the day.
Bringing the dolphin on board was definitely a team effort.
“It’s actually a pretty interesting fish story,” she said. “We hooked him, and we could tell when he jumped that he was a good-sized fish.”
It also wasn’t Dudley’s fish to catch. Another angler on the boat, Kelly Taylor, was the one holding the pole.
“It was my friend’s turn to reel it in,” Dudley said. “It took probably 20 minutes for her to get it all the way up to the boat.”
At that point, as everyone on the boat got a good look at the catch, Dudley’s husband tried to keep them calm with some misinformation.
“When we first got it up next to the boat, we were all saying, ‘That’s a big one!’” Dudley recalled. “He said, ‘Aw, it’s probably about 20 pounds.’ My friend Kelly said, ‘There’s no way. I’ve been reeling him in, and I’m exhausted. If that’s 20 pounds …’ He was trying to downplay the fish, because he thought that would calm everybody down a little bit.”
It didn’t work. Members of the team attempted to gaff the dolphin — hooking it with a long pole to help muscle it onto the boat — and it appeared to become the proverbial “one that got away.”
“We gaffed it a little too far back,” Dudley said. “The fish put its head down and started flopping around and took off with the gaff.”
That’s when Dudley, much to her surprise, found herself on the spot.
“I thought I was caught,” she said. “My line had gotten tangled up with the fish — I thought. So I was just kind of reeling in, trying not to pull too hard, because we were afraid the lines would rub together and break.”
When the fish broke free from Taylor’s line, however, Dudley suddenly felt a strong pull.
“It turned out the fish had actually eaten both baits,” she said. “He’d eaten mine, which was the long rigger. Then he came in and ate Kelly’s short rigger as well. So he was hooked on both sides, with two different hooks. So when he broke her line, he was still on mine.”
Twenty minutes later, she had reeled him all the way back, and they were able to successfully gaff him and get him on board.
Then the Enough headed back to shore so Dudley could collect her big check. Despite her success, she didn’t stay around for the main event of Big Rock.
“That was my last day,” she said. “I came home and went back to work. My husband stayed for the week on another boat. They had some success, but not quite as much as we did on our little ladies’ day.”
While it would seem that might create a few awkward moments around the family dinner table, Lauren assured everyone that Stuart wasn’t jealous of his wife’s success.
“He’s pretty excited about it,” she said. “Besides, the prize money actually goes to the boat owner, and that’s him. So he’s not real worried about me winning.”
Dudley isn’t positive, but she seemed to be leaning toward being a one-and-done when it comes to the Keli Wagner tournament.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I’ll definitely fish a lot more, but, like I told me husband, I think we were so lucky. I don’t think we need to press our luck anymore. That was a once-in-a-lifetime fish right there. The right fish at the right time.”