OCEAN CITY -- Through five days of the White Marlin Open, a buzz would go through the spectators at Harbor Island marina whenever word came in of hookup with a blue marlin.
Yesterday at 4:04 p.m., Willie Etheridge of Suffolk, Va., brought a 321-pound blue to the scales.
On Wednesday, Etheridge was hooked up with a much bigger blue marlin for 6 1/2 hours on 50-pound test before the fish got off. Yesterday, Etheridge landed his catch in 40 minutes on 80-pound test.
Asked to compare his feelings yesterday with those on Wednesday, Etheridge said, "Better, much better."
Capt. Alan Owen of the Auctioneer, from Norfolk, was a bit more expansive.
"The last time I hung one up here, it was a half an ounce away," Owen said. "This is so, so much better."
Only one white marlin was weighed yesterday, and it was too small to dislodge even Ernie Duckett's 71-pound, third-place fish.
Bob Bell, the Baltimore auto dealer who caught his 80 1/2 -pound white marlin Monday, finished in first place and won approximately $230,000.
Brent Hofmann finished second with a 74-pound white.
Etheridge's blue was the only one of the tournament to meet the 250-pound minimum and was worth approximately $208,000.
Jason Alfandre from Bethesda, a 15-year-old senior at St. Andrews School, won the top angler award with 341 points (four white marlin released, one 61-pounder caught).
There were four other anglers aboard Smoker, Alfandre said, "but they were feeding the rod to me.
"I was on the [leader] board here in 1989 with a bigeye [tuna]," Alfandre said. "But these are the first white marlin I have caught here."
The top boat award went to the Dixie Lady with 450 points (six white marlin tagged and released).
Overall, 220 white marlin were caught and 203 were released over five days, with few brought to the scales the last days of the tournament because the fishermen knew what weights they had to beat.
"Most of these guys, if a big marlin has been weighed the first day, are good enough to know that there is no sense in weighing a smaller fish," said tournament director Chuck Motsko. "So they release them, which is good for the fish and the tournament. Those fish that survive have a good chance of being back here next year."
While the white marlin chase was for the biggest purses, the tuna fishermen consistently produced the largest fish.
On Monday, a 266 1/2 -pound tuna was weighed in by Richard Joy and No Strings II. Victor Carbone of the Parthenon weighed in a bigeye of 246 1/2 pounds the same day.
"We are just a bunch of rookies out here," Victor's brother, John Carbone, said at the time. "This fish might not hold up through the week, but for the moment, it feels awfully good."
Over the space of less than 90 minutes Thursday evening, Joy, Carbone and Julia Smith of Baltimore were swept out of the top three by catches of 270, 271 1/2 and a 326-pound state record caught by Slim Freitas of Port St. Lucie, Fla.
The third-place tuna would have won the category in 18 of the past 19 years.
White marlin -- 1. Bob Bell, Shamrock, 80 1/2 pounds; 2. Brent Hofmann, Sea Roamer, 74 pounds; 3. Ernie Duckett, Fandango, 71 pounds.
Blue marlin -- 1. Willie Etheridge, Auctioneer, 321 pounds.
Tuna -- 1. Slim Freitas, Moderation, 326 pounds (tournament record); 2. Roger Glynn, Moderation, 271 1/2 pounds, 3. John Troger, The Adventurous, 270 pounds.
Dolphin -- 1. Randy Worthington, Impulsive, 60 pounds; 2. Howard Lisk Sr., Daddy's Choice, 50 1/2 pounds; 3. Jason Alfandre, Smoker, 41 pounds.
Wahoo -- 1. John Main, Impulsive, 87 1/2 pounds (tournament record); 2. David Kolb, Yankee Babe, 46 1/2 pounds; 3. Kelly Conway, Ell-An-Bro, 43 1/2 pounds.
% Shark -- no qualifiers.