OCEAN CITY - The morning of the final day of the White Marlin Open looked like one of the great land rushes of the 1800s as 323 boats of all sizes blasted out of the Inlet toward the off-shore canyons.
The numbers to beat in the white and blue marlin categories were like a mantra at Harbour Island Marina, the Open headquarters, and other docks around town: 71 pounds and 781.5 pounds, respectively.
Seasoned Open watchers who speculated that those numbers might hold were right.
But the first-place winner in the white marlin division was not the tournament's top money maker. Results will not be official until today's awards ceremony, but it appeared last night that third-place finisher Jim Henry Sr. won $534,000 for a 66-pound fish caught Wednesday aboard the "Always Late." He entered all skill categories to win the most money.
First place went to Don Wagner, of Telford, Pa., who nevertheless collected $300,000 for a 71-pound white marlin he caught in Poorman's Canyon aboard the "Reward." Second place and $80,000 went to Baltimore's Mark Mosca for a 68.5-pound fish.
Joe Schwab, of New Gretna, N.J., won $300,000 for his 781.5-pound blue marlin - fourth largest in the tournament's 27 years. Second place and $130,000 went to Bill Massaro, of Cape May, N.J. Like Wagner in the white marlin division, Massaro was fishing aboard the "Reward."
Kent Island's Kimberly Haig made her first blue marlin count. She took third place with a 532.5-pound fish.
This year's Open set records for participation and purse. Tournament president Jim Motsko said 347 boats registered, generating a purse of nearly $1.5 million.
Last night's weigh-in had a couple tense moments after two thunderstorms blew through the marina, knocking out power to the digital scale. A substitute was brought in from the Ocean City Fishing Center, an emergency move that could result in some anglers lodging protests.
"They might," Motsko said. "But we have a protocol for protests and an independent panel of three judges. When you have more than 300 boats and 1,500 anglers, things happen."
The week got off to a slow start Monday, when choppy seas kept all but 20 boats tied to the docks. The only fish to make minimum weight was a 77-pound tuna from Hanover's Ed Doniecki.
Tuesday, the winds dropped, allowing 318 boats to go fishing. Doniecki's top tuna took a tumble, when Baltimore's Mark Mosca, fishing aboard the "Lisa," brought in a 77.5-pound fish. By Thursday night, both had dropped down.
On the second day, Massaro boated his 553.5-pound blue marlin.
David Doyle aboard the "Felicity" brought in a 78-pound yellowfin tuna to bump Mosca and Doniecki. And Pasadena's J. B. Jennings, aboard "Fish Finder," got a 158-pound shark - which proved that category's winner.
Wednesday was a day of rest for some anglers, but 239 boats went out. But Mosca wasted no time in making a comeback from his tuna deficit, landing a 68.5-pound white marlin, good for first place.
Ocean City's Bruce Hall, aboard the cleverly named "I-CART-ER," came back from the canyons with a 76.5-pound wahoo. Milton "Skip" Roberts, of Pasadena, as it turned out, turned in a $14,000, 109-pound top bluefin tuna.
Brian Schaeffler of Bedminster, N.J., won the dolphin division with a 48.5-pound fish.