(Editor's Note: This article appeared in Maryland Life's July/August 2010 issue. This year's event takes place from August 6-10, 2012)
Drinking beer, puffing cigars, and flinging baited hooks into the deep blue sea may not be Donald Trump’s strategy for financial success, but come early August, it’s going to be somebody’s ticket to reeling in a cool million bucks.
As the world’s largest billfish tournament, Ocean City’s five-day White Marlin Open (WMO) brings together world-class anglers vying for more than $2 million in prize money, and thousands of celebrants enjoying the tantalizing array of expensive boats, trophy fish, live music, good eats, ice-cold beer, and perhaps the ultimate backdrop—the Atlantic Ocean.
Bigger may indeed be better, but within the world of the WMO, the comparatively svelte white marlin steals the limelight from its Brobdingnagian blue brethren. Translation: Tetrapturus albidus are white gold.
Last year, Bostonian Sean Healey earned a $903,442 paycheck for landing a 93.5-lb. white marlin—the second largest in event history. That works out to $604 per ounce.
Sure, a North Carolina angler took home a $455,000 check for his big blue marlin, but only after three gut-busting, back-breaking hours spent hauling the 1,062-lb. leviathan aboard. Prizes are also awarded for largest tuna, wahoo, dolphin, and shark.
Landlubbers won’t see the drama actually unfolding on the 250-plus boats, but can enjoy the dockside oohing and aahing as each day’s largest catches are hauled up onto the official scales.
In 2007, the gallery was stunned to discover that a ginormous blue marlin had inside its belly—pointy end first—a white marlin. That was one hungry fish.
With the purses so fat and the media glare worthy of SPF-500 sunblock, you can best believe sportfishing is serious business. During the WMO, Maryland captain Dave Birkett and “Big” John Simpson plop down $22,000 in fees, fuel, and supplies just to get their boat, Shadow Fax, within striking distance of the Big One.
And consider this: Before an angler is awarded anything, he or she is subjected to a rigorous polygraph examination to make sure everyone is playing by the same rules.
Says Healey with a hearty laugh, “My polygraph was a strange experience, but one I hope to repeat this year.”
During the WMO, I join Birkett, Big John, and crew for a day of deep-sea fishing. While the sun is still snoozing, we seesaw through the heaving Atlantic, pass a pod of pilot whales, and are seemingly headed to Portugal before Birkett eases up on the throttle.
Some 60 miles out, we arrive at our destination: the “Baltimore Canyon Trough,” an underwater trench that teems with marine life 600 feet below the surface.
Hour after hour, we crisscross a vast expanse of wind-whipped India ink, dragging nine baited hooks behind Shadow Fax’s growling Cummins 450s. Collectively, we will a mega-marlin to chomp down on our sliding smorgasbord of ballyhoo, mullet, and artificial lures.
Alas, no dice.
As we lurch up and down and up and down in five-foot swells, Big John philosophically declares, “That’s why they call it ‘fishing’ and not ‘catching.’” That we survive the bumpy ride back to Ocean City is a testament to Dramamine.
But by week’s end, Birkett’s crew is all smiles. First Mate Doug Salter manages to snag a 249-lb., record-setting tuna, earning the team a very cool $179,581. As Salter regales us with his three-hour, mano-a-fisho smackdown, Dave Birkett Jr. says approvingly, “They’ve had muscle-bound guys wear out halfway through reeling in a marlin. It’s definitely technique.”
So, you ask, is prize-winning marlin edible? Big John answers with a grimace, “Blue marlin tastes really fishy, really awful. I guess if you put a gallon of Old Bay on it, you could eat one.”
Awful? Garnished with a million greenbacks, that blue beast would be a veritable feast, sez we. Bon appétit!
The 2012 White Marlin Open takes place Aug. 6-10 in Ocean City. For more information, go to www.whitemarlinopen.com.