OCEAN CITY -- Through the first four days of this year's White Marlin Open, 225 white marlin were caught, but none met the tournament's minimum weight of 65 pounds.
Yesterday, nearly $800,000 hung in the balance as some 260 boats ran out to the offshore canyons.
"That's what one 65-pound white marlin would be worth across the board," Open co-chairman Andy Motsko said shortly after the scales opened at Harbor Island Marina. "But that's if only one white is weighed in."
Or, if the same boat weighed in the top two white marlins of the week, which tournament officials said never had been done.
Shortly after 6 p.m., after two whites had been weighed and missed the minimum weight, the Anticipation moved to the scales, and the crowd began to buzz with, well, anticipation.
Three white marlin flags flew from the outriggers -- two fish caught, one other released -- and Anticipation was entered across the board.
Germantown's Ben Moses brought a 65.5-pound white to the scales, and for a few minutes, at least, the Montgomery County communications consultant laid claim to $800,000 and the thrill of a lifetime.
And then teammate Richard Benn, of Great Falls, Va., brought the crowd to its feet with an 81.5-pound white, the largest caught in this tournament since 1991.
"We were fishing at Norfolk Canyon," said Paul Spencer, captain of the Anticipation out of Murrell's Inlet, S.C. "And these fish were a doubleheader."
Benn's catch was worth $675,000, and Moses' drew $117,000.
"I have been dreaming of this since I was 14 years old," said Benn, a pilot with USAirways, who jumped on the dock and danced in the cockpit with his wife and children despite a heavy knee brace. "I've been trying to calm myself down. I am not going to live until 9: 15 tonight."
No other qualifying white marlins were caught over the next three hours, and after the scales closed at 9: 15 p.m., Anticipation had a doubleheader worth $792,000.
The closest any other angler came to qualifying was Ocean City's Mike Crutchley, who weighed in a 64.5-pounder.
"A half-a-pound," said Crutchley, who was entered in all skill-level pools. "A half-a-pound short. What are you going to do?"
Had Crutchley's catch qualified, he would have missed the big money, which is paid only to the first two places when all skill levels are entered.
Stanley Shapiro, fishing aboard the Lady S, caught the largest blue marlin of the tournament, a 578-pounder worth $270,000.
This White Marlin Open drew 331 boats, the most in its 26-year history.
The $675,000 payout to Benn was a tournament record, surpassing the $543,892 won last year by Crownsville's Roger Viens.
Pub Date: 8/07/99