66th Big Rock Tournament underway

The Release had the first big strike of this year’s Big Rock Tournament, landing a 504-pound marlin (Courtesy Release Sportfishing)

Lines are in the water as the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament officially kicked off Monday morning in the Crystal Coast off Morehead City with its 66th iteration.

Anglers from far and wide have converged in North Carolina to take part in one of the world’s best fishing tournaments in the waters off the Outer Banks.


The Big Rock Tournament commemorates the first (recorded) time a blue marlin was ever caught off the North Carolina coast.

In 1957, a couple of local fishing enthusiasts in Morehead City formed the Fabulous Fisherman Club to try and prove the rumors of blue marlins existing in the local waters and the club in turn partnered with local businessmen to offer up a cash prize to the first person to catch a blue marlin off the Crystal Coast.

And then on September 14, 1957, that rumor was proved to be true as the first blue marlin, weighing in at 143-pounds, was caught by Raleigh native Jimmy Croy.

The event has grown every year since into the massive, international spectacle it is today as a record 302 boats have signed up for the six day long tournament in hopes of bringing home the biggest fish and a portion of the tournament’s $7.5 million in prizes.

Already this year’s tournament has popped off as the first boated blue marlin of the tournament, caught at 10:44 am on Monday by angler Kirk Pugh onboard ‘Release’ captained by Rom Whitaker, weighed in at 504 pounds winning the boat the Fabulous Fisherman prize, totaling $1,729,750, for being the first blue marlin caught weighing in at over 500 pounds and.

While that already tops last year’s winner – a 484-pound blue marlin – ‘Release’ didn’t even hold the top spot for a day as Clay Nalley onboard ‘Game Time’ captained by Ben Brownlee, reeled in a 516 pounder later that day.

The tournament lasts for six days, culminating on Saturday, July 15, although boats are only allowed to be out on the water for four out of the six possible days.

Competitors can win prize money for not only the biggest blue marlins, but there are also prizes for other billfish as well as wahoos, tuna and dolphin fish and a few other categories and the prize pools are typically split between first, second and third.

While there’s a lot of fun to be had in the fishing and winnings, the tournament also plays a vital role in conservation efforts, education and research around marlins.

On top of the tournament having strict standards on weight and size requirements for the fish, requiring the release of any marlin caught under 400 pounds and 110 inches, every fish brought in to weigh is turned over to marine biologists for study and the tournament is even partnered with the International Game Fish Association to deploy satellite tags on released marlins for even more study on their migration patterns and habits.

In fact, multiple marlins tagged during the Big Rock Tournament have gone on to win what the IGFA calls the ‘Great Marlin Race,’ a program that tracks the total straight-line distance tagged marlins swim during migrational patterns.

The Big Rock Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the tournament, also routinely gives back to the community and local charities with over $10 million having been donated since 1986.

Big Rock also has its Big Hero program which honors service members with an ‘unforgettable fishing adventure’ by hosting them on ‘world-class sports fishing boats alongside elite anglers.’

Beyond the main six-day tournament, Big Rock also hosts a tournament specifically for the ladies and even one for kids.

The tournament week actually kicked off with the 27th annual Keli Wagner Lady Angler (KWLA) Tournament on Sunday.

Per tournament officials, 267 boats and an estimated 1,500 lady anglers competed in the one-day event with 44 blue marlins, 32 sailfish and 12 white marlins, which were all released, as well as 50 additional game fish caught between them all.

Reel Current, captained by William Garmany and with anglers Lilly Allen, Susan Gagnon, Sarah Gagnon, Aussie Gibson, Alston Gibson and Jessica Moodie, took home the top spot with eight billfish caught between them.