There was a lot of chatter on social media last week about the final Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament prize payout.

Second-place Sea Striker walked away with a cool $1 million-plus for its 495-pound blue marlin, while Pelagic Hunter II only got just over $223,000 for its first-place 495.2-pounder.

I think Big Rock would be the first to admit that the social media post about Sea Striker going online roughly an hour before an official congratulations was posted for Pelagic Hunter II was a rough look. In the tournament’s defense, this mistake was made during a topsy-turvy year with no in-person awards ceremony, where the timing of Facebook posts took on a much higher significance.

It was very cool to see the 35-foot outboard Contender, Pelagic Hunter II win, and it was sad to see such a small payout for the first-place fish. The boat had only entered in a few levels of competition, giving it access to a smaller pot, but there’s a reason for that.

The fact is, this tournament is a pricey one to enter and a small boat like Capt. John Cruise III’s center console vessel doesn’t have the advantages of an 84-foot Bayliss or an 80-foot Viking. With that said, it makes fiscal sense for a small boat to enter in only a few levels of prize money for the tournament.

The difference between entering all levels versus just a handful is also financially sizable. Pelagic Hunter II was only entered in Levels I, II, VI and IX (Outboard), which cost the boat $8,500 in fees. Sea Striker, on the other hand, was registered in all divisions for a whopping $27,500 in entry fees.

Paying $27,500 to enter an offshore billfishing competition is simply not feasible for many, many boats. When the tournament takes on new sponsors, new levels get added, which attracts new anglers and ups the total purse to greater heights. But how attainable is a big-prize payout, really, to a boat measuring 45 feet or less?

As it turns out, not. There were 62 boats in this year’s field of 205 measuring 45 feet or less, and only four entered in all available levels: Anniston-Quinn, a 45-foot Grady White ported in Wilmington; Box Office, a 37-foot Grady White from Wrightsville Beach; Quote Boat, a 43-foot Jarrett Bay from Clinton; and Wall Hanger, a 39-foot Yellowfin from Raleigh.

On the other end of the spectrum, Annalia (37-foot Merrit) of Annapolis, Md., No-Sea-Um (25-foot Grady White) of Wilmington, Off Season (40-foot Cabo) of Stoneville, Reel Affair (33-foot Wellcraft) of Greenville and Second Chance (28-foot Bertram) of Greenville only entered in the mandatory Level I for a $2,500 entry fee.

Pelagic Hunter II is only one a very small group of outboards to win the Big Rock and the smallest boat to win it this century. The average boat length in this year’s tournament was 52 feet. By the way, in finding that figure, I found that all 205 boats put together were 10,619 feet long. That’s more than 35 football fields of sportfishing boats. Just saying.

Of the 10 marlins that made the leaderboard this year, the average boat length was 56 feet. The average length of the last 10 Big Rock winners is 55 feet.

The moral of the story is this – Big Rock is a high-dollar tournament, both in entry fees and payouts. Small boats stand a slim chance of catching the winning blue marlin and an even slimmer chance of getting a high-dollar payout.

Pelagic Hunter II’s $223,263 payout is nothing to sneeze at, but it’s also only 6.6 percent of the Big Rock’s total purse. On the surface, it hardly seems like a fair prize for first place.

But in one more defense of the Big Rock – because I always like to play the devil’s advocate – the very first Fabulous Fisherman Club Tournament (predecessor to Big Rock) featured a $500 prize for a $25 entry fee. That fee is five percent of the total amount of money won for first place. This year, Sea Striker’s $27,500 entry fee was only 2.6 percent of its $1,056,138 payout.

Here again…just saying.


(Send comments or questions to or follow him on Twitter @zacknally)

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