MOREHEAD CITY — After a final day of waiting in suspense, Widespread captured the 63rd annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament on Saturday.
The Oregon Inlet-based boat weighed a 656.5-pound blue marlin on Friday to move up from third place to first and earn the right to go home with a $1.6 million payday.
The boat remained slipped up at Big Rock Landing overnight rather than make the long trip home to its Hatteras port. When Big Rock Radio operator Randy Ramsey announced “lines out” at 2 p.m., no boats were still hooked up and the win was announced.
The winning catch from Capt. Jay Watson and angler Cole Pirrung marks the second straight year the top fish was boated and weighed on day 5 of the competition. This was the first tournament in four years to not see a blue marlin on the last day.
Pirrung is a household Big Rock name now after Cole became the third brother to bring a marlin to the weigh station. Luke Pirrung weighed a 479.2-pounder on Thursday and Connor Pirrung weighed a 569.9-pounder on Donna Mae in 2019.
The celebration was fairly subdued considering most of the crew of the boat was not on location. Pirrung himself went out with friends the night before and hadn’t returned to town when the win was cemented.
Instead, Connor Pirrung was tapped to give a celebratory interview.
“I came in sixth place two years ago and thought that was the coolest thing in the world,” he said. “This is just awesome.”
Widespread gave Big Rock fans a night to remember on Friday when it showed up at the docks around 10:30 p.m. with the fish. It was Pirrung’s first-ever billfish, so he took a nighttime dip in the creek afterwards, as is customary for first time anglers.
There was a little late-day drama Saturday when Carolina Pirate hooked up at 1:57, pulled its hook 30 seconds later and then hooked back up for a doubleheader at 1:58. One of those hooks got pulled and the other was attached to the wrong species.
“We tried to stay calm,” Connor Pirrung said. “I still felt good about 656 even if they were hooked up on a blue marlin.”
Natural finished in second place with a 521.6-pound blue marlin reeled in by angler Jonathan Fulcher and Capt. Carl Beale. The Beaufort boat already won the Fabulous Fisherman’s prize of $828,750 on Tuesday for boating the tournament’s first blue marlin weighing over 500 pounds. With the $453,063 second-place prize, Natural will win a total $1,281,813 payout.
Outnumbered of Wrightsville Beach is the third-place boat with a 512.4-pound blue marlin pulled in by angler Billy Thompson. The James Breen-captained boat will win a $301,375 payout.
There have been seven total blue marlin brought to the weigh station this week, including a 448.8-pounder off Following Seas, a 446.8-pounder off Anticipation and a 419.3-pounder off Dancin Outlaw.
The offshore conditions were unfavorable on Saturday, leading to a slow bite of just three blue marlin releases from the 39 boats who ventured out. The other 231 boats of the field of 270 were fished out by Saturday.