The team of Builder’s Choice poses with its 33.9-pound dolphin on Sunday. The gamefish catch gave the boat the edge over Doc Fees for the KWLA grand slam win. The team won a whopping $130,007 payout. (Dylan Ray/Big Rock photo)


MOREHEAD CITY —Builder’s Choice corralled a big win in the 24th annual Keli Wagner Lady Angler Tournament on Sunday with a grand slam victory.

The 64-foot Jarrett Bay Hull 59 out of New Bern brought a 33.9-pound dolphin to the scale, and combined with two blue marlin releases, enabled the boat to complete the slam.

Builder’s Choice was followed by a pair of 59-foot Spencer boats, Doc Fees out of Wilmington in second and Sea Toy out of Manteo in third.

The boat, captained by Brent Gaskill, walked away with a hefty prize of $130,007. Overall, the tournament had a purse of $189,125 up for grabs from a field of 132 boats.

The total boat count didn’t set any records, but it was certainly an upswing from last year’s 68. The 2020 tournament was severely hampered by inclement weather. 

As a result, the competition went from a one-day format to two days, with boats only able to fish one of those days. This year, the threat of inclement weather on Saturday forced the same change. 

“I have a feeling people are going to expect that going forward, but that’s going to be tough,” KWLA Director Madison Struyk said. “Sunday is a pretty busy day for us already with registrations taking place for (Big Rock).”

With the KWLA spread out over three days, Big Rock Landing played host to the awards ceremony, the Sunday pig pickin’ and the Big Rock captains’ meeting all on the same evening. 

“It went awesome, a lot better than I thought it might,” Struyk said. “There was a lot of action here on Sunday.”

On Friday, after the KWLA captains’ meeting, Big Rock Landing looked like a full-blown festival with an event tent, vendors and teams of participants dressed head to toe in their best fishing-related costumes. The in-person costume contest was a much-needed dose of fun after last year’s competition was virtual only. 

“It was the best one we’ve had,” Struyk said. “Every single one was incredible. I think because they had two years to come up with costume ideas, everyone really brought their best.”

On the water, the competition came down to Builder’s Choice and Doc Fees. Both boats released two blue marlin for 800 points, so it came down to additional gamefish. Builder’s Choice weighed a 33.9-pound dolphin, a little over 7 pounds heavier than Doc Fees’ 26.7-pounder. Sandy Grotheer was the angler who reeled in the dolphin. 

Builder’s Choice made headline news in 2018 when it weighed a whopping 911-pound blue marlin at the Pirates Cove Billfish Tournament. 

“I was really excited to see Brent win on Builder’s Choice,” Struyk said. “It took me a moment to register that he had won all three categories.”

In addition to the release category, Builder’s Choice won the heaviest dolphin category with its weighty catch and placed first in the release category with the first two blue marlin releases. 

Doc Fees went home with a $13,642.50 prize for its two releases. Third-place Sea Toy, which released a blue marlin and a white marlin, walked away with the same $13,642.50 payout. 

In the wahoo category, Natural, a 56-foot Scarbourough out of Beaufort, was first with a 49.1-pounder, followed by Ocean Stringer, a 40-foot Luhrs out of Wrightsville Beach, in third with a 17.5-pounder. 

In the tuna category, Release, a 53-foot Sullivan out of Hatteras, won with a 51.5-pounder, followed by Bill Collector, a 55-foot Jarrett Bay out of Morehead City, in third at 47.8 pounds.

The first prize for both gamefish categories was $9,095 and second place was $6,063.33. 

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