Safari captain Mark Harris took the first-day lead in the 49th annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament after angler Brett Goulding landed a 473.5-pounder late Monday following a 42-minute fight.
It was a great finish to a day that started inauspiciously for the Wrightsville Beach-based team.
Safari recorded the first hook up of the 49th Big Rock, but lost that fish after a four-minute fight. Harris was determined to troll the same area, hoping to get a second chance. Four hours later, he got another billfish hook-up. This time the big fish didn’t get away.
“It took us down about 300 yards of line straight off the reel on the bite,” Harris said. “It jumped itself out and sounded down in 800 feet of water.”
That’s when Goulding pulled the big fish up from the depths. Goulding, an experienced angler, who has “released plenty but never boated one before” termed his catch as “easy.”
“The fish actually just came up,” Harris admitted. “We held her and measured her and put her in the back of the boat. It was that easy.”
Even though the catch was easy, staying in first place might prove to be otherwise.
Safari’s catch would have won just one of the previous 18 Big Rocks. Still, the Safari crew is the only team at this point that has a chance to take home the $800,837 winner’s share from the Big Rock’s $1,568,950 purse.
“This morning it was 182-to-1 and now we’ve narrowed that down a bit,” Harris said. “Everyone’s chasing us now. Even though it’s not a big fish, it’s very good to have.”
A second blue marlin was boated on the Ashley Lauren, but that fish did not meet tournament minimums of 400 pounds or 110 inches in lower jaw fork length. The Ashley Lauren will be penalized 400 pounds from the weight of any other blue marlin it brings to the scales.
The Island Girl, captained by Jeffrey Quidley of Buxton released the first billfish of the tournament to win the $2,000 daily first-release prize. Anglers on 172 of 184 went offshore Monday, recording 21 blue marlin, nine while marlin, eight sailfish releases and a large assortment of hook-ups that got away.
Reel Quick, a Wrightsville Beach-based boat captained by Chris Bailey won $942.08 gamefish daily prize for landing the largest dolphin. Yellowfin angler, Steve Rollins, reeled in a 69.4-pound tuna to win the daily prize in that division. Sudden Impact, a boat captained by Jerry Elliot and based out of Dover won the daily wahoo prize with a 24.85-pounder.
The Big Rock has featured a purse with at least $1 million for 10 straight years. The six-day event continues Tuesday at 9 a.m. Each boat is allowed to fish 4 out of the 6 days during the competition.