For the second straight day, the 59th annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament experienced a major leaderboard realignment as Rehab took over second place in the blue marlin division with a 506-pound catch.
Rehab captain Nathan Shepard, Statesboro, GA, and angler Ryan Howard, Savannah, teamed to bring the blue marlin to gaff after a 75-minute fight. They knew their catch was big enough for the leaderboard right after the strike when the huge fish tail walked away from the boat before running deep.
“We saw how big it was right away,” said Shepard, a seasoned charter boat captain. “We just had to pull it back to the boat and get it on board. Ryan and the whole crew did a great job. It was a total team effort.”
Howard’s catch bumped Weldor’s Ark out of second place in the blue marlin standings, a spot that boat had held since the tournament’s opening day. Rehab is in position to win $250,720 if it can finish second overall.
Weldor’s Ark, captained by Mike Taylor, Swansboro, now holds third place in the blue marlin standings with a 484.9-pounder landed Monday by John Roberts, Greenville. Weldor's Arc would win $166,480 if it can avoid another change to the blue marlin standings.
Run-Off remains atop the blue marlin leader board for the fifth straight day with a 533.8-pound blue marlin caught early Monday by angler Matt Hanley. Run-Off captain Brian Harrington, Morehead City, and first mate, Marty Hiatt, teamed with Hanley to help him land his first-ever blue marlin.
Hanley’s catch was the first 500-pounder caught by a team entered in the Level V Fabulous Fisherman’s division, Run-Off received the $467,500 “Winner Take All” (WTA) prize from the Big Rock’s record $2,411,650 purse. If Run-Off can hold off the other competitors for one more day, the boat will win a Big Rock record $1,161,450.
While Howard’s blue marlin impacted the leaderboard, a blue marlin brought to the scales late Friday afternoon by Let It Ride did not.
Let It Ride captain Jake Farley, Fort Pierce, FL, and angler James Kontos, Vero Beach, FL, landed a 455-pound blue marlin that missed taking over third place by 30 pounds. Despite not finishing in the money, Let It Ride owner Arthur Konto – who has fished the Big Rock for 17 years – made a $25,000 donation to the Big Rock Foundation to support the tournament’s work.
With one day left to fish, many overall divisions are beginning to take shape. Sea Toy, captained by Bull Tolson, Manteo, holds the overall release lead with 2,525 points. Sea Toy anglers caught and released six blue marlins and one white marlin and is eligible to fish Saturday. Sea Toy is positioned to win $139,187 in addition to the $48,520 Tuesday WTA release prize if it can stay in first place.
Uno Mas, captained by Tommy Lynsky, Ft. Lauderdale, FL, has scored 1,575 points by releasing three blue marlins, one white marlin and two sailfish. Uno Mas is positioned to win $80,962 if it can finish second in the overall release division.
Marlin Fever, captained by Cameron Guthrie, Morehead City, has 1,450 points from three blue marlin releases and two white marlin releases. Marlin Fever is positioned to win $53,975 if it can hang on and finish third in the release division.
Islander, captained by Bobby Schlegel, Greenville, continues to lead the WTA dolphin division with a 69.1-pounder that was reeled in by angler Jess Powell, Nashville. This catch is worth $137,700 to the Islander crew (plus a daily prize) if it can hold onto the tournament lead.
Doc Fees, captained by Jed Galloway, Wilmington, maintains the wahoo gamefish division lead with a 97.7-pounder caught by Chad McIntyre, Raleigh. No boat has managed to land a yellowfin tuna to qualify for that division’s prize offerings.
Megabite, captained by Teak Bell, Wilmington, tallied the 59th billfish release of the 59th Big Rock and is slated to receive $5,900 for this timely release.
The final day of the competition runs from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and will include 53 tournament boats that have not fished four days. While this is a small subset of the 177-boat field, it includes four former Big Rock champions and boats that have won other billfish tournaments.
The four former champions fishing on the final day of the 59th Big Rock are Double B (2011), Inspiration (2014), Sea Creature (2009) and Sea Striker (1995 and 2001). A win by Sea Striker would make captain Adrian Holler the first three-time winner of the Big Rock. Sea Creature captain Steve Coulter is also aiming for a third win having served as the winning captain of the Outlaw in 1992.
“The stage is set for a last-day shootout,” said tournament director Crystal Hesmer. “We had 39 releases today (17 blue marlins, 17 white marlins and 5 sailfish) and the bite has definitely picked up. We had an exciting day and we expect an exciting finish Saturday. Whoever ends up on the leaderboard is going to win a lot of money.”
The 59th Big Rock wraps up Saturday night with an awards banquet set at the Crystal Coast Civic Center. Big Rock officials use the occasion to distribute checks to the winners and Big Rock president Billy Kornegay will have one final occasion to thank participants, sponsors and volunteers for helping make the tournament a huge success.