"Safari" Maintains Big Rock Lead

The 49th annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament reached its midpoint Wednesday with just one blue marlin on the leader board and a gigantic payday on the horizon.

The Safari, captained by Mark Harris, Dania Beach, Fla., has maintained the tournament lead since Monday afternoon when angler Brett Goulding reeled in a 473.5-pounder. Even though a blue marlin that size has won just twice in the past 23 years, the likelihood of a victory is drawing closer.

And since no other blue marlin are on the leader board, Safari would qualify for the entire blue marlin pot -- $1,215,425.

“That’s a beautiful thing,” said the Australian-born Harris when told about the one-winner scenario. “God bless America.”

Harris said he has been in contact with his family “down under.” They have followed his success on the Internet.

“They’re amazed,” he said. “A big tournament (in Australia) is 30 boats. This tournament blows that away.

“When I pulled into the dock (Monday) and I saw all those people there, it really felt like I was playing professional football again. To have those people cheering, it was unbelievable. I’ve fished in the Bahamas, St Thomas … all the recognizable tournaments. I don’t think you get (the Morehead City crowd reaction) anywhere else in the world.”

Billfish releases and gamefish continue to dominated the offshore action. Anglers on 102-of-184 boats went offshore Wednesday, recording releases on 16 blue marlin, 8 white marlin and 12 sailfish. So far, a total of 69 blue marlin, 34 white marlin and 22 sailfish have been released. Another 53 billfish hook-ups got away before the anglers could determine exactly what they had.

“This tournament is wide open,” said Big Rock tournament director Crystal Watters. “Everybody’s still in it. And most boats still have two days to fish.”

Most boat are expected to take a lay day Thursday and wait for calmer weather Friday and Saturday. Sea conditions were suppose to be fine Wednesday, but anglers who went offshore reported 8 to 10 foot seas most of the day.

Sea Striker, a boat captained by two-time Big Rock winner Adrian Holler, Newport, has a reputation of fishing well in rough seas. Holler’s crew recorded three blue marlin releases Wednesday. Tournament officials are trying to determine if this is a one-day blue marlin record.

Added to the blue marlin release Sea Striker recorded Monday, Holler’s team took the release lead with 1,600 points. Tuna Trappe , captained by Brian Smith, Wilmington, is in second place with three blue marlin releases worth 1,200 points. Sea Hag, captained by Ken Kramer, Morehead City, has five releases totaling 1,050 points to hold down third place. A victory in the release division is worth more than $82,000.

Deacon Blues, captained by Jay Blount, Morehead City, won the $2,000 daily prize for scoring the first release of the day. Blount’s crew caught and released a spearfish 10 minutes after the start of fishing Wednesday.

Sea I Sea, captained by Brad Langdon, Newport, captured the lead of the wahoo division Wednesday with a 45.25-pounder reeled in By Bill Mills of Jacksonville. Buck Wild, captained by Parrish Warren, Rocky Point, took over the lead in the dolphin division with a 52.1-pounder caught by Wes Davis, Wilmington.

No tunas were brought to the scales Wednesday. Yellowfin, a boat captained by Jeff Garner, Morehead City, maintains first place in the that division with a 69.4-pounder that Steve Rollins, Brighton, UT, landed Monday.

The six-day event continues Thursday at 9 a.m. Each boat is allowed to fish 4-of-6 days during the competition. Anglers are battling for a share of a Big Rock purse worth $1,568,950.