By Bruce Paul - Big Rock Media Director
The 51st annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament has just six hours of fishing remaining and only one blue marlin on the leader board.
Figment captain Glynn Loftin of Swansboro and angler Kyle Culpepper, Wilmington, landed a 439-pound Blue Marlin late Wednesday to grab the inaugural tournament lead. They are in position to win $1,055,900 if no other blue marlins are caught that meet tournament minimums.
The Figment crew dodged a scare Friday when Maggie II landed a blue marlin midway through the day. Maggie II’s catch did not meet tournament minimums -- 400 pounds or 110 inches in length – and does not qualify for any prizes.
The Maggie II actually fished the first four days of the 51st Big Rock as “Maggie” and elected to re-enter the competition as a new entry once they were “fished out.” Maggie was one of seven boats that entered the 51st Big Rock as a “new” entry after fishing their maximum (4) number of days. On Friday, four other “fished-out” boats joined the field to take part in what has become a one-day shootout.
Big Rock rules do not prevent a boat from entering the tournament at any time. That includes tournament boats that have already fished 4-of-6 allowable days. If contestants on fished –out boats pay another entry fee to compete, they are, in fact, a new entry.
This situation has never happened before in the history of the Big Rock. But the unusual alignment of six perfect fishing days and no big blue marlins on the leader board set the reentry gears in motion. These late entries have increased the tournament purse – at press time -- to $1,728,891.
This means 69 boats will fish the final day and 22 still have a shot at the instant prize of $335,750 for weighing in the first blue marlin that weighs 500 pounds or more.
Another unusual feature of the 51st Big Rock is the size of the tournament-leading fish heading into the final day. With the exception of the 400-pounder that turned out to be the winning fish for Sea Striker in ’95, this is the smallest Friday leader since 1982. Sea Striker’s winning catch in ’95 was remarkable in its own right since 5-of-6 days were plagued by storms, rain and rough offshore conditions.
While it’s not usual for a winning fish to be caught on the final day of the Big Rock, it has only happened twice in the past 12 years. 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.
Significant in this year’s final day of competition is the laundry list of top teams that can still go offshore.
Artemis – winner of the 50th Big Rock – has been quiet throughout the 51st tournament but can still become the first defending champion to defend its title since the Bunny Too won back-to-back Big Rock’s in 1959-60.
Bak-Bar – the Big Rock winner in 2007 – will go offshore Saturday. So will Sea Striker and Sea Hag – boats with multiple Big Rock titles.
In all, more than two dozen boats, captains, anglers and mates that have won previous Big Rocks will fish on the final day of the 51st Big Rock.
Figment, owned by Mickey Corcoran, New Bern, has he become the center focus of what’s turned into a one-day shootout. Corcoran put his son-in-law in the fighting chair and watched as Culpepper reeled in his first-ever blue marlin.
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 125 billfish releases during the 51st Big Rock. The 42 fishing teams that went offshore Friday caught and released 4 blue marlin, 2 white marlin and 1 sailfish.
Eye Catcher, captained by Burrows Smith, Wilmington, won the daily release prize now worth $7,880 for the release of a blue marlin and a sailfish. This moved Eye Catcher into third place in the overall release category with 925 points for two blue marlins and one sailfish release.
The James Joyce II, winner of the 12th annual Keli Wagner Big Rock lady angler tournament last Saturday, captured the release runner-up prize of $5,253 for the release of a blue marlin.
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. Early Dawn, captained by David Upchurch, Pinehurst, won the $2,000 prize for the first release of the day. Prize money in the release division currently totals $236,000.
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. Pole Position, captained by Gene Ingle, Wrightsville Beach, took over second place Friday with a 53.70-pound dolphin caught by Raleigh angler Randall Ward.
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. The Certifiable team also holds second place in the tuna division with a 58.1-pounder landed Monday by Jeff Sussman of Princeton, N.J.
Saga, captained by Randy Abbitt of Newport News, Va., holds second place in the wahoo division with a 39.10-pounder reeled Thursday by his son, Travis Abbitt.
Competition in the 51th Big Rock ends Saturday at 2 p.m. or after all tournament hookups have been fought to a conclusion. Competitors receive their winnings Saturday evening at the Big Rock awards ceremony held at the Crystal Coast Civic Center.