After five anxious days of waiting, the Artemis crew captured the 50th annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament, winning $708,400 from the event’s $1,854,575 purse.
The Charleston, S.C.-based Artemis, captained by David ‘Bucky’ Copleston, arrived at the Big Rock scales just before 11 p.m. Monday with a 640-pound blue marlin reeled in by Darryl Reyna of Mt. Pleasant, S.C. Reyna hooked his catch Monday afternoon, just 22 minutes before the first-day deadline and needed 3.5 hours to get it in the boat.
Shortly after its late-night weigh-in, Artemis – named after the Greek Goddess of the Hunt – found out what it meant to be hunted. Big Rock anglers hooked and fought 163 billfish, including 66 blue marlins the past three days. Any of these fish could have been big enough to change the leader board. Every hookup report could have meant disaster.
“I don’t know if I can listen to another hookup call on the radio,” Copleston said Friday night, before the final day of fishing. “We’re timing every one (of the hookups) and if they get longer than 30 minutes it becomes stressful. When it goes more than an hour we know (the boat) has probably got a big one.”
Copleston and his crew got just such a scare Saturday at 10:54 a.m. when Sparky’s Toy, captained by Paul Woodard, Raleigh, called in a blue marlin hookup. Sparky’s Toy fought its catch for 80 minutes before deciding it could not make the leader board.
The Artemis crew received a final scare 18 minutes before the end of fishing. Peggy, captained by Mike Guthrie, Beaufort, reported a hookup and then took the tournament into Big Rock's version of overtime. Forty-six minutes drifted slowly by as the Peggy battled their blue marlin and all other boats headed to shore.
Then, suddenly, Guthrie called in a blue marlin release. Artemis crew members could finally celebrate. So could the crews of the Melina and the Lady Lou V.
Melina, captained by William Frisch, Moorestown, N.J., captured $254,290 for taking second place with a 555.5-pound blue marlin. David Yeager of Medford, N.J. Yeager reeled in the runner-up catch Monday afternoon after a fight that lasted 101 minutes.
The lady Lou V, captained by Paul Spencer, Manns Harbor, garnered $168,860 for finishing third. Angler Jose Valdes of San Juan, Puerto Rico, who owns the boat, hooked and landed a 553.5-pound blue marlin in just 24 minutes early Wednesday morning.
Spencer was lucky to even be at the scales. He was tipped off to a good fishing location by his son, Daniel Spencer, who brought a 458.5-pound blue marlin to the scales Monday on the Manteo-based Sizzler. The younger Spencer gave his dad an early Father’s Day gift the two will never forget.
Tuna Trappe III of Wrightsville Beach captured the Big Rock’s $386,750 prize for landing the first billfish weighing more than 500 pounds. Tuna Trappe III captain Brian Smith, Wilmington, and angler John Lancaster, Raleigh, reeled in a 537-pounder blue marlin early Monday.
Tiger Runner, a boat captained by Scott Earp, Raleigh, captured the top billfish release prize of $77,360 for releasing five blue marlins and one sailfish. Trophy, captained by John Horton, Wilmington, earned $46,416 for finishing second and collected an additional $17,406 for top daily release performances. Trophy matched the totals of the Tiger Runner, but Tiger Runner accomplished their releases first.
Buckwild, captained by Parrish Warren, Wilmington, had four blue marlin releases and finished third overall in the release division to earn $30,944. Buckwild also won a top daily release prize of $8,703.
Artemis gave South Carolina its second straight Big Rock victory, fourth in eight years. Summertime Blues started the string in 2000 when owner /angler Ron Walschlager of Kiawah Island, S.C., reeled in a Big Rock record 831-pound blue marlin. Bak Bar, owned by Neal Baker and Billy Barnwell of Mt. Pleasant, S.C., won the 49th Big Rock when captain Tommy Lewis showed up at that scales late at night with a 613-pound blue marlin reeled in by his son, Montukie Lewis.
Big Rock anglers hooked and released 163 billfish during the six-day event, nearly one for each of the 177 boats entered in the tournament. Through six days of fishing, 110 blue marlins, 32 white marlins and 21 sailfish have been caught and released. Six blue marlins were brought to the weigh station.
“We had a fantastic tournament,” said Big Rock president Tom Bennett. “Big Rock fishermen had a great week offshore and helped us raise a lot of money for charity. They demonstrated their deep concern for conservation of the species by releasing blue marlins that could not make the leader board. It was a great week for everyone, especially the crews that found a way to win money from our record purse.”
Prizes money and trophies were distributed Saturday night at the Big Rock awards banquet held at the Crystal Coast Civic Center. Distribution of charitable contributions will be made in the next few weeks.