Record large prize pool awarded at Big Rock

The crew of Game Time poses after landing the top blue marlin of the Big Rock tournament (Courtesy Big Rock)

Another Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament came to a close Saturday and there was quite a bit of excitement surrounding the 66th iteration.

The record-setting tournament featured 302 boats and a prize pool of $7,562,700.


This year’s winner ended up being just the second marlin caught in the tournament.

‘Game Time’ was the winning vessel this year, with angler Clay Nalley and captain Ben Brownlee boating a 516-pound blue marlin Monday afternoon

“Hit the right short and hopped in the chair,” Nalley said after weigh-in on The Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament livestream. “Took us about 45 minutes and everything, thank goodness, kind of went to plan. Went down with the backing twice and we just got lucky. Today was our day.”

As the winner, the boat won $1,816,375 and will have its name engraved on the Big Rock fountain.

“Shocked,” Nalley said when asked about his reaction to the weigh in. “I didn’t even think it was 500 on the deck.”

‘Release,’ who boated the first marlin of the tournament, finished in second with their 504-pound marlin caught by Kirk Pugh and captain Rom Whitaker.

The crew collected $485,575 for the second biggest marlin, but their biggest payout ended up being the Fabulous Fisherman’s prize payout of $1,729,750 which they won for having caught the first blue marlin weighing at least 500 pounds.

“I love the Big Rock,” Whitaker said. “Y’all just don’t know how many years I’ve been working, it’s probably over 40, to get here and do this. I’ve won some money in some fishing tournaments but I never, ever experienced anything like I did Monday when I backed into here. I was a rockstar for at least an hour.”

‘Builder’s Choice’ finished in third with a 431.8-pound marlin caught by Harris Huddle and captain Brent Gaskill and they ended up taking home $323,050 for the third place finish as well an additional $1,479,000 for winning the Level VI Super 20 WTA.

Builder’s Choice was also one of the vessels that hosted a military veteran on board, taking on Gunnery Sergeant Clinton Pierce from the United States Marine Corp as part of the Big Rock Big Hero program.

“I’d rather do this everyday than go deploy,” Pierce joked. “But this is something I’ve always wanted to do, something I’ve dreamed of doing. It was on my bucket list and so to everybody that put this together, the Big Rock Big Hero Foundation, Salt Life and Harris Huddle and his crew, thank you. I appreciate it and it’s awesome.”

“It just means so much,” Huddle said. “The military commits so much throughout the year and everything and so just to have the opportunity for them to go out and fish is just great. What we’re able to do everyday, for them just one day, is outstanding.”

The drama really picked up though as the tournament came to a close.

Despite a slow week – only three marlins were boated heading into the final day – four marlins were pulled up and brought to the weighing station as Saturday came to a close.

While the first three didn’t qualify due to being undersized, the very final marlin, caught by ‘Pipe Down’ and brought to the awaiting crowd well past 7 p.m., made the cut.

However, the fish weighed in at 425.1-pounds, just six pounds short of the $1.8 million payout.

While only four marlins were boated over the entire six-day tournament, in total 268 billfish – 196 blue marlins, 37 sailfish and 35 white marlins – were caught and released.

The other biggest winners from the week included ‘Ava D’ who won $603,500 for their 46.2-pound dolphin fish, ‘Sandbob’ who won a combined $201,167 for catching and releasing five blue marlins and two white marlins over the week, ‘Honky Tonk’ who won $114,750 in the non-sonar division for catching and releasing three blue marlins and ‘Top Shot’ who won $50,575 in the outboard division for catching and releasing four blue marlins.

On top of the prize money handed out, the tournament also contributes a significant portion of money to local charities as well through the Big Rock Foundation.

“This tournament has given away $3.6 million to local charities here in the last three years alone. A lot of that credit goes to you guys.” said Board of Directors member Tommy Bennett at the awards banquet on Sunday. “We’re very grateful for the contributions to the Big Rock Foundation. You put us all in the hope business and we work everyday to make those dreams come alive for many, many worthwhile charities.”

Next year’s tournament will take place from June 6 to June 15, 2025.