It doesn't necessarily take experience, or even skill, to catch the winning fish at the White Marlin Open in Ocean City.
All it takes is a bit of luck, says Jim Motsko, 63, president and founder of the event, a longtime summer tradition at the resort that begins Monday.
"We've had many years when the heaviest white marlin was caught by a novice," he said. "Anybody can get lucky."
The White Marlin Open typically draws hundreds of boats and thousands of anglers. Motsko expects more than 2,000 to enter the tournament and nearly 5,000 to watch the anglers display their catches each night during the weeklong tournament, which will feature a variety of music and food vendors, as well as other goods. But one thing in particular appeals to most spectators, he said.
"A lot of people have never seen a big fish," Motsko said, adding that the tournament resembles an in-the-water boat show. "It is a very unusual sight to see a boat pull up with a fish that is bigger than a lot of people."
Motsko has seen it all when it comes to big fish. He founded the White Marlin Open when he realized there were no fishing tournaments out there that featured guaranteed prize money.
"I worked my way through college on charter boats in Ocean City in the mid- to late '60s," he said. "At that time, there were no tournaments that had guaranteed prize money for sport fishing."
While Motsko was on his honeymoon a year or two later, he contemplated doing something with his life that he really enjoyed.
"I thought that I could enter a tournament" with guaranteed prize money, he said. "I thought I could win and take the prize money and go fishing again, so that's how the concept started."
Motsko chose Ocean City because he was familiar with it and because it's known as the white marlin capital of the world.
The White Marlin Open, founded in 1974, has been very successful every year.
This year's tournament prize money is expected to total around $2 million. It doesn't compare with previous years, before the economic downturn, but Motsko hopes for better years to come.
Of the event's five days, anglers are allowed to pick three to fish. There are nightly weigh-ins and a variety of categories for competition. The Winner Take All for Tuna category is fairly new, and Motsko introduced it to draw in more tuna fishers.
"People tend to be willing to go tuna-fishing more often than to go marlin-fishing because when you're tuna-fishing, the fish hook themselves," he said.
Other categories are for the largest blue marlin, mahi-mahi, white marlin, wahoo and shark.
During the nightly weigh-ins, the most popular event at the tournament, anything can happen, Motsko said. In previous years there has been everything from a state-record blue marlin, weighing in at 1,062 pounds, to a marriage proposal.
At the end of the week, the tournament also offers an awards buffet that is open to the public. The lucky anglers who managed to catch the winning fish are presented with checks at the ceremony.
"The fish don't really care whether you're rich or poor or how big of a boat that you have," Motsko said. "Once you're out in the ocean and have a line in the water, you do have a chance of catching a heavy one."
If you go
White Marlin Open
The tournament is Aug. 2-6 in Ocean City, with an awards banquet on Aug. 7. Events and weigh-ins take place on Harbour Island at 14th Street and the Bay. Fishing ends at 3:30 p.m., and the nightly weigh-ins are from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Activity is usually heaviest between 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
There is no parking at Harbour Island, but parking is available nearby for a fee. A park-and-ride shuttle bus will be operated from the Convention Center.
For more information go to whitemarlinopen.com or call 410-289-9229.