The crew of the Pelagic Hunter II, a 35-foot Contender, celebrates winning the 62nd annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament with a 495.2-pound blue marlin. The fish beat out two other catches by less than a pound. (Contributed photo)

MOREHEAD CITY — A small boat with a big fish and a close finish capped an exciting 62nd annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament in 2020.
The Pelagic Hunter II, a 35-foot Contender captained by John Cruise III of Sneads Ferry, weighed a 495.2-pound blue marlin to walk away with the win. The catch reeled in by Riley Adkins of Wilmington beat out the second- and third-place fish by less than a pound.
Not only did Pelagic Hunter II get added to the competition’s long list of champions, it was added to a very small group of Big Rock winners who did it with a center console boat. The first boat to do it was Dr. “Doc” Leroy Allen in 1962 on Sea Hag. Allen singlehandedly caught a 487-pound fish and towed it home alongside the boat to win that year’s competition, which was known then as the Fabulous Fisherman’s Blue Marlin Tournament. 
“To be on the wall with those legends and to know all of the hard work that we put in it, it’s so awesome,” Cruise said. “We were so fortunate to be out there fishing with some of these bigger boats. To know that we’re on that list forever is amazing.”
Pelagic Hunter II took home a payout of $223,263 from the Big Rock’s record $3.34 million purse. Adkins’ catch on day 6 of the competition fell just shy of the 500-pound mark that would have won the boat an additional $552,500 Level V Fabulous Fisherman’s prize.
The winning catch took first place on the slimmest of margins. Sea Striker of Morehead City weighed a 495-pound blue marlin on day 6 of the competition reeled in by two-time Big Rock winner Capt. Adrian Holler and angler Jon Henry. The boat was registered in all prize divisions, so Holler and his crew went home with a $1,056,138 payout. 
On day 1 of the tournament, Predator of Hatteras grabbed an early lead with a 494.2-pound fish reeled in by Capt. Chris Barnett and angler Gene Olmo that wound up placing third for a $273,750 prize. 
The bite all week during last year’s competition was an active one with 14 blue marlin coming to the weigh station and a tournament-record 180 releases, eight more than the previous record of 172 set in 2007.
Other boats to weigh an official tournament marlin were Hatter-Done with a 488.1-pounder, Dancin Outlaw (470.4), Bill Collector (453.7), Hammer Time (450.2), Reel Steel (450), Catch 23 (442.3) and Double B (419). There were also marlin brought to the scales by Tail GunnerReel CountryGame Changer and April Mae, but all four failed to meet tournament minimum standards of 400 pounds or 110 inches in length.
There was a 15th blue marlin in play when Moon Dancer boated one late on the final day, but the boat blew an oil pump on the way back to port and eventually conceded the tournament with measurements concluding its catch would very likely not make the leaderboard.
The second-smallest fish of the tournament produced the biggest moment, when Catch 23 boated a blue marlin and arrived at the weigh station with owner and NBA legend Michael Jordan on board. The Charlotte Hornets owner embraced his friend, tournament official and World Golf Hall of Famer Curtis Strange and waved at the crowd before posing with his team and the blue marlin. 
The Big Rock had a few fun family moments during the week. Hatter-Done featured a father-son pairing in Capt. Chris Daniels and his son, angler Jason Daniels. On Saturday, the weigh station got a full dose of the Henry family with two brothers – Capt. Parker Henry of Double B and Sea Striker angler Jon Henry. Father Keith Henry was also aboard Sea Striker for its catch. 
The crowd at the weigh station never got its marquee Fabulous Fisherman’s moment, with the “big check” worth $552,500 ever-present at the docks. That didn’t mean the money went unclaimed, though. Ft. Pierce, Fla.-based Lo Que Sea, the weekly release division leader with 2,250 points and captained by Garrett Yarbrough, nabbed the unclaimed prize to go home with a hefty $752,250 prize. 
Sea I Sea finished in second place of the weekly release division with 1,600 points for the release of four blue marlin, earning it a payout of $91,162 in weekly release prizes. Post Call placed third with 1,325 points for the release of three blue marlin and one white marlin for a weekly release prize of $60,775.
Singularis lasted the week with the winning dolphin weighing 55.2 pounds reeled in by Zac Yarbrough on Tuesday. The hefty fish earned the boat a $395,250 payout. 
C-Escape ran away with the heaviest wahoo division with a 75.2-pounder from angler Randy Britt to earn the boat $5,000 in prizes. 
There were no tuna weighed throughout the week. 

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