Even though the Viking 62 team enjoyed an enormous lead throughout the 57th annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament, the final hours proved a bit agonizing until the contest was finally over.
Viking 62, captain Brian Komer, Riviera Beach, Fla., and angler Earle Hall, Hampton, Va., took the tournament's inaugural lead early Monday when they showed up at the scales with a 680-pound blue marlin. Their catch was big enough to win 26 of the past 30 Big Rock competitions, but that didn't make the final hours of the tournament go by any faster.
“It's by far the longest week of my life,” Komer admitted after Viking 62 was finally declared the winner. “Hooking the fish 15 minutes into the first day, I knew we had a long week ahead us. We still went out there, stuck with our game plan and we didn't let up. It worked out just great.”
But not without a late tournament scare.
Suzie Q captain Timmy Rhodes, Newport, reported a hookup 18 minutes before the tournament was slated to end. Several minutes went by before the hooked fish was identified as a large dolphin … not a large blue marlin.
“Suzi Q…that was pretty stressful,” Hall admitted. “I thought that would really be a story-book ending for a tournament. You (media) guys would love that kind of stuff to write about. Me ... not so much. I thought it would just be my luck to sit here in the lead all week and then lose it in the last 10 minutes. But (Viking 62) winning was meant to be.”
When the victory was finally in hand, Hall was stunned by what he and the Viking 62 fishing team had accomplished.
“I've done this my whole life,” he said. “It's the biggest fishing accomplishment we've ever had, that's for sure. It just feels good. It feels like you're part of a pretty elite group now and (a part of something that) will be in the books forever.”
Viking 62 won $560,500 from the Big Rock's $1,632,650 purse. Not too shabby for a boat that rolled off the production line just four days before the start of the tournament.
EZ Boy placed second overall and won the outboard division with a 556.3-pound blue marlin caught Thursday. EZ Boy captain Van Pierce, Trinity, N.C., and his angler, Eric Kimball almost released their catch but decided not to after getting a good length measurement. EZ Boy collects $202,525 for finishing second and an additional $8,925 for finishing first in the outboard division.
Carly A captain Will Ross, Wanchese, N.C., and angler Adam Shack, Raleigh, came in third with the 504.3 pound blue marlin reeled in Monday. Carly A team remained on the leaderboard all week and received $134,350 for finishing third.
Shenandoah, captained by Alan Willis, Morehead City, won the $365,500 Fabulous Fisherman prize for the first 500-pound blue marlin to the scales that was entered in Level VII. Shenandoah's 503.6-pounder was reeled in by angler Robbie Stallings, New Bern.
The only major shakeup in the final two days of fishing occurred in the release division. Prime Time, captained by Gray Hall, Morehead City, took the Level V release division lead Friday with a second blue marlin release and held on for the win. Hall and his crew receive $73,312 for winning the Level V release division and $10,000 for finishing second in the Level I division with a total of 800 points for two blue marlin releases.
Accordingly IV, captained by Peter Dubose, Newport, placed second in the Level V release division and scored 800 points (after Prime Time) with two blue marlin releases. Dubose and crew captured $43,987 from the Level V release prize pool.
Dancin' Outlaw, captained by Thomas Wood, Harkers Island, finished third in the Level V release division to win $29,325. Wood, who won the 41st Big Rock in 1999, finished first in the release division last year.
Speculator, a boat captained by Edward Murray, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., won the Level I billfish release category worth $15,000. Speculator has 925 points – more than any other competitor – but did not elect to participate in the Level V release competition. All ties in billfish release divisions are decided by time: whatever boat scores the most points first.
Freestyle, captained by Kenny Sexton, Manteo, tallied the 57th billfish release of the 57th Big Rock. The Freestyle team won $5,700 for chalking up a timely release.
Only 48-of-149 boats in the field were eligible to fish the final day of the competition. Anglers experienced a below average bite Saturday as competitors scored six billfish releases. This broke down as four blue marlins, one white marlins and one sailfish released.
Starling Marine, captained by David Starling, Morehead City, won the $110,500 “Winner Take All” dolphin division with a 48.7-pounder reeled in by angler Chad Shingleton, Clayton, N.C. Big Oil, captained by Tim Tanghare, West Cape May, N.J., came in first in the tuna division with a 134.3-pounder reeled in by angler Doug Allen, Vincentown, N.J. On The Hook, captained by Sammy Grayson, Georgetown, S.C., finished first in the wahoo division with a 52.5-pounder caught by Chad Zittrover, Guyton, Ga. All gamefish division winners receive $3000 plus applicable daily prizes.
The 57th Big Rock wrapped up Saturday evening when trophies and prize money were distributed to all winners at the Big Rock awards dinner staged at the Crystal Coast Civic Center. Big Rock president Roger Crowe thanked all participants for making the 57th Big Rock such a successful tournament. Proceeds from Big Rock competitions are designated to support tournament charities and other worth organizations. An announcement of financial support that stems from this Big Rock and the associated Keli Wagner Lady Angler tournament will be made at a later date.