By Bruce Paul - Big Rock Media Director
Even though competitors in the 51st annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament experienced great billfish action Thursday no one was able to catch a blue marlin big enough to bring to the scales.
That left the Figment, captained by Glynn Loftin of Swansboro and angler Kyle Culpepper, Wilmington, alone atop the leader board with a 439-pound Blue Marlin. It also sets up a situation never before experienced in Big Rock History.
“We have 69 boats that have fished four straight days … and this sets up multiple twists as the Big Rock heads into a two-day shootout,” said tournament president Tommy Bennett. “First of all, there are 88 boats that still have one or two days left to fish. They elected to wait … and that strategy has paid off. Nobody, so far, has caught a big fish.
“But there’s nothing in the rules that prevents a boat that’s already fished its four days from re-entering the tournament. If they pay another ($17,000) entry fee to compete, they’re back in.”
And that’s exactly what’s happened. For the first time in Big Rock history, seven boats that are “fished out” have paid to re-enter the competition. This is Big Rock’s version of a “do over” and it increased the tournament purse – at press time -- to $1,687,091.
“We’ve never had this happen before … but it’s well within the rules,” said Bennett. “It will be very interesting to watch what takes place in the hours and days ahead.”
Late tournament drama is not unusual at the Big Rock. In ’98, the Waste Knot, owned by Lonnie Poole, Raleigh, captured the 40th Big Rock with a 564-pound blue marlin caught on final day. In ’06, Chainlink owner Wes Seegars, Goldsboro, won the 48th Big Rock with a 501.5-pounder caught during the tournament’s final hours. In both of those situations, relatively small blue marlins were posted on the leader board going into the final day of fishing.
Culpepper, the son-in-law of boat owner Mickey Corcoran, New Bern, had never caught a blue marlin before reeling in a catch that’s currently worth $1,032,950.
“I was nervous from the hookup right until I heard them announce 439 pounds,” Culpepper said while describing his 35-minute fight. “As soon as the fish was stung by the hook it almost landed in the outrigger. All I saw was belly and a bunch of girth. I was real excited. The fish hit on the center (shotgun) rigger and came up strong. We didn’t know exactly what to do (at the end) until we heard the captain’s orders to go ahead and stick him.”
Figment also holds the tuna division lead with the 98.25-pounder landed by Clay Walker, Wilmington, on the tournament’s opening day.
Anglers have now recorded 118 billfish releases during the 51st Big Rock. Fishing teams caught and released 13 blue marlin, 12 white marlin and 5 sailfish but no one was able to stir up a 500-pound blue marlin that could (at the time of press) be worth an instant prize of $323,000.
Game On, captained by Dennis Brookshire, Lexington, S.C., won the daily release prize of $7,439 for the release of a blue marlin and a sailfish. Caroline, captained by Watson Caviness, Fayetteville, released two white marlins to capture the runner-up daily prize of $4,959.
Piracy, captained by Chris Russell of South River, continues to lead the overall release division with two blue marlin releases and two white marlin releases for 1,080 points. Piracy took a lay day Thursday and has one day of fishing left to try to add to its lead and win first prize. Release, captained by Rom Whitaker, Hatteras, won the $2,000 daily prize for the first release of the day. Prize money in the release division currently totaled $338,906 before the seven re-entries shuffled up the pot .
The dolphin division continues to be lead by Sea Hag, captained by Ken Kramer, Morehead City. Sea Hag angler Carly Ledford of Jamestown, NC, reeled in a 57.15-pounder Tuesday. Big Bird, captained by Bradley Stancil of Angier, took over second place Thursday with a 38.60-pound dolphin that he caught himself.
Certifiable , captained by Joel McLeod of Jupiter, Fla., maintains the lead in the wahoo division with a 57.15-pounder reeled in by Sam Peters of Savannah, Ga. Saga, captained by Randy Abbitt of Newport News, Va., took over second place with a 39.10-pounder reeled in by Travis Abbitt.
Competition in the 51th Big Rock continues Friday at 9 a.m. Competitors on each boat fish 4-of-6 days –- or (in the case of the re-entries) - just two days –- and receive their winnings June 13th at the Big Rock awards ceremony.