Big Rock tournament underway in Morehead City

The 64th annual deep-sea fishing tournament is highlighted by its quest for the winning blue marlin

Ven Poole and Zach Grantham of the Waste Knot attempt to reel in a dolphin on Monday during the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament. (Griffin Daughtry / North State Journal)

MOREHEAD CITY — If you went back in time to 1957 and asked locals whether you could catch billfish off the coast of North Carolina, they’d probably tell you it was nothing more than idle talk. Commercial fishermen, who would rarely cast lines out of sight of the shoreline, never saw them. Their skeletons certainly never washed up on shore. And yet that didn’t stop the Fabulous Fisherman Club and Morehead City merchants from offering a cash prize to the first person to catch an elusive blue marlin off the Crystal Coast. The prize? A little red Radio Flyer wagon filled with silver dollars.

With a record-breaking prize purse of more than $5.8 million, it’s safe to say that the 2022 Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament has come a long way since those early days. What initially began as a one-time experiment to promote interest in deep-sea fishing and boost the area’s up-and-coming charter boat industry is back in Morehead City for its 64th annual event. This time, it’s drawing participants and spectators from all over the world. In total, 266 participating boats have registered for the chance to win part of the record-breaking purse and help raise money for charity. Of the money raised, at least 91% of all charitable contributions will go directly back into Carteret County.

The 2022 tournament and surrounding festivities, presented by major sponsor Jarrett Bay Boatworks, started June 10 and will run through June 19. The Keli Wagner Lady Angler Tournament (KWLA) women’s event took place through the first weekend, with the first day of the main event beginning Monday.

As in previous years, official fishing hours for the Big Rock are from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Effective this year, omnidirectional sonar technology will not be permitted before the official hours. Of the six available fishing days, each boat is only allowed to drop lines for four days and must take at least two lay days.

On top of the normal prize levels from previous years, with payouts for heaviest blue marlin, wahoo, dolphin, tuna, daily first release, weekly release and overall billfish, the Big Rock Board of Directors introduced three new entry levels this year.

This year’s tournament will also offer admission for Level IX weekly and daily non-sonar release categories. Additionally, the Big Rock Tournament is also offering entrance into a new Level VI Super 20 Winner-Take-All, sponsored by ED Cure, where contestants can pay a $20,000 entry fee to a Calcutta in which the boat that catches the largest qualifying blue marlin would be in line to earn $850,000 based on 50 entries. Based on 2021 entries, if entered in Levels I, II, III, IV, V and VI, the winning team’s payout could total more than $3.3 million, an industry record.

On the first day of fishing, 244 of the 266 participating boats went out to sea to catch a big payout. RoShamBo, a 65-foot Guthrie/Bluewater from Solomons Island, Maryland, released the first blue marlin of the tournament, earning a $5,000 payout.

By day’s end, five boats had returned to Big Rock Landing to weigh blue marlins. Mercenaria, a 72-foot Viking from Cherrystone, Virginia, sat atop of the leaderboard for the heaviest marlin after Day 1 with a 572.6-pound catch. Mercenaria also took home a check totaling $777,750 for catching the first blue marlin weighing more than 500 pounds.

The blue marlin wasn’t the only fish being weighed at Big Rock Landing on day one, as even Michael Jordan’s Catch 23 weighed in a 24-pound dolphin.

Only 38 boats went out on Tuesday’s Day 2, highlighted by J&B moving into first place in the Dolphin Division with a 29.5-pound catch.