Record hauls buoy tournament White Marlin grows in participants, payouts


August 09, 1998|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

Twenty-five years ago, the White Marlin Open had a field of 56 boats and a total purse of $20,000. Friday, Roger Viens of Crownsville and the crew of Red Eye won more than $530,000 for catching a 79.5-pound white marlin, and the open paid out more than $1 million in total prize money.

"Phenomenal, just phenomenal," tournament director Chuck Motsko said last week, noting that a record 295 boats entered this year's tournament. "This week the fishing has been phenomenal, the changes in prize money staggering. This is a far cry from 1974."

The large payouts in the open are built from added-skill level categories, pools of money built from anglers' stepped entry fees.

The competition is played out over the underwater canyons 60 miles and more offshore, where the Continental Shelf drops away to the deep.

By Friday, the excitement was high along the docks of Harbor Island Marina, where a crowd of several thousand spectators had gathered to watch the weigh-ins, hopeful of a white marlin that would surpass Viens' catch made earlier in the week.

But offshore the focus of the tournament had changed. Three good-sized white marlin had been caught Tuesday and by Friday the smart money was chasing blue marlin.

"By the end of the week, in a year like this when there is a category open for the taking, it is better to take your chances with blues than whites," said Andy Motsko, a teacher at McDonogh School who spends his two months off working the family tournament. "Sharks are wide open, too, so we might see a few of them come in."

But the only catch Friday that changed the payout significantly was Webb St. Clair's 840-pound blue marlin.

"It took me 25 years to catch a money fish in this tournament," said St. Clair, whose catch was worth about $230,000. "But it was well worth the wait."

Before St. Clair's catch, Buddy Dougherty of Alexandria, Va., had the blue marlin pool to himself and was looking at $320,000. Dougherty ended up with a $110,000 payday.

The five-day competition began with only 49 boats fishing Monday, when winds were from the northwest at 20-to-25 knots and seas were running 6-to-8 feet.

"It was one of those days that was bad for fishermen, but great for the marlin," said Chuck Motsko. "Marlin love it when the seas are rough, and those boats that fought to the edges of the canyons did well."

Although only three white marlin were brought to the scales on Day 1, 50 others under the 65-pound minimum were boated and released.

Several boats reported releasing more than a half-dozen white marlin, and Motsko said, the scene was set for a frantic week of billfish action.

"Some years you look down the dock and a few boats are flying marlin flags," said Chuck Motsko, whose family has run the tournament since 1974. "This year there are flags everywhere.

"Marlin are there at the 50-fathom line to the drop off in unusual numbers. The most whites we ever had was 314 in 1980."

By Thursday, 330 whites were caught or released, but more than twice as many boats fished the tournament.

After Day 2, when all three of Monday's leaders had been knocked off the leader board, Viens was looking at a first-place white marlin potentially worth $752,000, three-quarters of the entire tournament purse.

While Viens sat in the catbird seat "sweating bullets" with his 79.5-pound white, the crew of the Careless was sitting in second place with a 78-pound white caught by Brandon Trevillian of Severna Park.

"The Careless had no professional captain or mate, the anglers were a mixture of sons, friends and stepchildren and they didn't enter any added-skill level categories," said Chuck Motsko of David Care's crew. "So their catch wasn't worth much money. But you couldn't tell by the fishing party or the fans in the crowd. There couldn't have been more excitement if a million dollars was at stake."

Trevillian's catch ended up being worth $6,000, while Tony Battista of Ocean City won $110,000 for a 73-pounder in third place.

By Wednesday, however, Viens' potential winnings had been cut to $535,000, as Dougherty brought in his 354-pound blue.

The marlin purse in the open is split between white and blue marlin and Dougherty's catch aboard the Outer Limits was potentially worth $310,000. In 1996, the Outer Limits, from Pirates Cove, N.C., won the Open and a $413,000 purse, until this year the world record payout for a white marlin.

While more than 200 boats fished Thursday and the catch-and-release rate continued to be high, the leaders remained unchanged entering the final day of the tournament.

Friday, more than 200 boats went out to fish, but only St. Clair on the Water Dog and the South Jersey Champion out of Cape May, N.J., made a difference in the standings.

The South Jersey Champion caught and released 16 white marlin on the final day to win the top angler and top boat awards, and St. Clair had one of those fish to remember.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.