Only one boat fished Thursday at The Big Rock, setting up mad dash to the finish

Islander released this blue marlin on Tuesday. [@Bonzelures photo]

It’s going to be a mad dash to the finish at the 61st Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament out of Morehead City, which wraps up on Saturday.

Wolverine, which spent last summer fishing out of Hatteras, still holds the lead with their 588.9 pound blue marlin, worth just over $793,000.

Paved For captain Jason Daniels of Clayton turned Thursday into a solo act when he elected to be the only competitor to go offshore.

Even though 183 of the 184 boats took one of their two mandatory lay days, Daniels liked his chances.

Daniels entered Paved For in the mandatory Level I and optional Level IX (Outboard) portions of the tournament. If he could catch two dolphins on this “no-opposition” day, he would have won all but $500 of his entry fees.

If Daniels managed to catch and release a billfish, the “Paved For” team would be money ahead.

They finally got a hook-up minutes before the 3 p.m. deadline. Unfortunately, that fish got away.

Three days earlier, when the tournament began, seven blue marlin were landed and five of those spent time on the Monday leaderboard. Since then, there have been no changes to the blue marlin division.

But that is projected to change. Weather conditions are forecast to improve Friday and be perfect Saturday. That sets up a late tournament shoot-out since all but 13 boats can fish both days.

Cory Zeigler caught the overall leader on Monday. []
Wolverine captain Rocky Hardison, Beaufort, maintained his lead through Thursday with the 588.9-pound blue marlin that was reeled Monday by angler Cory Ziegler. Donna Mae, captained by James Luihn, Vero Beach, Fla., holds second place with a 569.9-pound blue marlin hauled in by angler Conner Pirrung.

Sweetum captain Pete Rae, Plano, Texas, led initially with a 545.1-pound blue marlin caught by Scott DeWolf, and captured the Level V Fabulous Fishermen prize of $531,250 for being the first boat to land a blue marlin that weighed at least 500 pounds.

Sea Striker and Fender Bender brought blue marlins to the scales Tuesday but both catches missed making the leaderboard. Sea Striker’s blue marlin tipped the scales at 500.2 pounds. Fender Bender’s blue marlin finished a bit higher at 504.8 pounds.

Even though this year’s leaderboard features large blue marlins, recent history suggests larger fish are still out there. In 2014, Inspiration won the 56thBig Rock with a 754.3-pound blue marlin. In 2015, Viking 62 scored a victory in the 57thBig Rock with a 680-pound blue marlin.

In 2016, the Ashley Lauren followed up a win at the 19th Keli Wagner Lady Angler tournament with a victory in the 58th Big Rock. Ashley Lauren “doubled up” when that fishing team landed a 621.4-pound blue marlin.

Through Thursday, there have been 55 blue marlin, 26 white marlin and 14 sailfish releases tallied during the Big Rock. Doc Fees, captained by Taylor Pleasant, Wilmington, and his crew scored the 61st release of the 61st Big Rock to win the special prize of $6,100 for that accomplishment.

Blue marlin weigh-ins attract thousands to the Morehead City waterfront during the tournament. [ image]

Fishing continues Friday morning at 9 a.m. Competitors in the 61st Big Rock are allowed to fish four-of-six days and must notify officials of the days they do not intend to fish.

Fishing hours are from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., except Saturday when the fishing hours are 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Any fight that starts before the end-of-day deadline can continue until the hook-up reaches a resolution.

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Sam Walker was news director for, Beach 104, 99.1 The Sound, Big 94.5 WCMS and Z 92.3 from August 2011 to March 2022.