OCEAN CITY - Looking both dazed and happy, Dave Warren had to ask friends where he had just been fishing.
That's what a check for $800,000 will do to your brain.
Warren, 31, caught a 76-pound white marlin yesterday on the final day of the White Marlin Open. The weight was only third highest, but the fisherman and surfer from Wanchese, N.C., won the most money by entering all five skill levels.
"If you're going to catch just one fish, this is the fish to catch," he said standing dockside while trying to reach his father on a cell phone.
What is he going to do with his winnings?
"Pay bills," he said.
For the record, he said he caught the white marlin about 65 miles offshore near Washington Canyon.
A 78-pound white marlin caught by Bob Hughes of Norcross, Ga., aboard the Anita took first place. But because he entered in just three of five skill levels, his payday was worth $400,000.
Second place and $540,000 went to Jeff Goodwin, a building contractor from Baltimore who caught a 77-pound fish from Lazy Bonz.
Another Baltimorean, John Wilhide, watched an $800,000 check slip from his hands when his 70-pound white marlin, entered in all categories, slipped from third to fourth place early in the evening.
Prize money totals do not become official until today's awards ceremony at Clarion Resort LaFontainebleu Hotel.
A record 402 boats carrying more than 2,000 anglers were competing for $2 million in prize money during the five-day tournament.
Although several hefty blue marlin hauled onto the scale teased the crowd of several thousand that lined the dock and hung from condominium balconies at the Harbour Island Marina, none met the 450-pound minimum.
The tournament, long praised for its record of catch-and-release fishing, raised its record this year. Of the 791 white marlin caught through Thursday, 98 percent were set free, according to spokesman Andy Motsko.
Anglers also donated 2,400 pounds of fish to the Delmarva Food Bank.
The best catch of the week belonged to Tom Hinkle, a teacher at Calvert Hall, whose 63-pound white marlin fell 3 pounds short of the tournament minimum, but whose marriage proposal charmed the crowd.
After his disappointing weigh-in, Hinkle dropped to one knee and asked Lisa Capritti, a continuing education student at Towson University, to marry him. When she said yes, the crowd went crazy.
"That was a first in the 29-year history of the Open," said a grinning Motsko.
In the tuna division, Keith Davis of Joppa, aboard Lisa, claimed first place with a 113-pound fish. He will take home a check for about $95,000.
Second place Bob Forwood of Wilmington, Del., aboard the Just Right III, caught a 112.5-pound fish good for $3,000.
Third place went to Steve Fleegle of Greensboro, who caught a 103.5-pound bluefin aboard Victory that, with skill levels entered, was good for about $36,000.
The distaff side of angling took the top two honors in the wahoo division, the winner and a crowd favorite pulling it out on the final day.
Janet Smith of Bel Air practically danced on water from her husband's boat, Longfin, to the dock scales.
When her wahoo was hoisted high and the digital readout said "80," she hugged each of her children and grandchildren in sight. "This is the best moment of my life, even if I don't win," said Smith, who spends her summers in Ocean City.
"I caught it in less than 10 minutes on this little boat," she said, pointing to the 29-foot vessel. "I kept saying, `This is nothing. It's really little. Don't get your hopes up.' The closer we got, the more I started thinking, `Maybe a third place, maybe second.' "
Terry Nirenberg of Atlantic City, N.J., took second with a 72.5-pound fish caught Thursday, and John Green of Lane, Pa., finished third with a 61-pounder.