Longtime watchers of the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament – and we’re talking lo-o-o-ongtime watchers – must shake their heads when they see what the event has become in the past 61 years.

Now considered the premier event for marlin fishing on the East Coast, the Big Rock has grown from humble beginnings to a huge growth in prize money that no one could have predicted.

This year’s tourney sees 187 boats competing for a mindboggling record purse of $2,869,626.

The tournament’s money payout has gone up in each of the past six years, rising from $1,395,825 in 2014 to more than double that total this year. It went to $1,632,650 in 2015, $1,914,100 in 2016 and hit the $2 million mark for the first time in 2017 with $2,411,650. Last year’s purse was $2.5 million.

The numbers had gone down for five straight years following the Great Recession of 2008, going from $1,842,675 to $1,752,366 in 2009 and $1,664,450 in 2010. In 2011, it slipped to $1,464,925, followed by $1,252,950 in 2012 and $1,154,625 in 2013.

The tournament first hit the $1 million mark in 1998 and remained steady from that point on, never rising above $1.1 million until 2004 when it rose to $1,476,175. It didn’t hit the $1.6 million mark until 2008.

From 1994 to 1997, the tournament’s purse remained between $500,000 and $850,000. From 1989 to 1993, it stayed between $230,000 and $300,000.

In 1974, the winning boat received just $600. Twelve years later, the winning purse reached $50,000.

Calvin Koonce of Raleigh caught a 420-pound blue marlin aboard the Bolo Jr. to take home first place in 1963.

A total of 64 blue marlin were brought in during the week of fishing that included such festivities as skydiving, parades on land and water, a fish fry, variety shows, an art show and sailboat races. Entry fees were $25 with the captain’s prize going for around $500.

The Fabulous Fisherman Club also offered its annual prize of a $50 U.S. Savings Bond.

The Fabulous Fisherman sold over 100 memberships to the club in 1964 at $1 apiece for individuals and $10 for businesses.

No blue marlin were landed in the 1965 tournament.

Before it began, Ken Newsom penned an article in the News-Times, claiming the annual event had become the county’s most effective promotional project.

Morehead City Mayor George Dill proclaimed the tournament a success even without any marlin landed.

In 1966, the only blue marlin weighed in during the tournament gave Ivan Mercer of Charleston, S.C. the win aboard the Bunny Too with a 245-pound catch.

Hurricane Alma restricted fishing for the 30 boats entered in the contest, guaranteeing Capt. Delmas Willis and mate Bob Brown the $1,000 prize as the $500 prize was carried over from the year before.

Events the week of the tournament included a singles tennis tournament, surfing contest, street dance, a marathon, craft fair, street parade and beauty pageant that included swimsuits for the first time.

The winning boat didn’t take home more than $1,000 until 1976 when Restless V won $2,675. Two years later, it had hit $4,400, and by 1985, it was $20,000.

(Send comments or questions to jj@thenewstimes.com or follow him on Twitter @jjsmithccnt.)

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