MOREHEAD CITY — Reputation doesn’t guarantee anyone a win at the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament, but it sure intimidates a wide field of opponents.
When Big Rock Radio operator Randy Ramsey jumps on the channel to report a hookup, ears perk up for certain boats.
This year’s tournament-record field of 270 boats is full of reputable boats and storied captains. Anglers clench up when they hear boats like Shenandoah, The General, Top Dog, Sea Striker and Carterican hook a billfish. They groan when Ramsey reports skippers like Dale Britt on the Weldor’s Ark, Rocky Hardison on the Wolverine, Buddy Hooper on Hatteras Fever II and Casey Wagner on Inspiration are fighting a blue marlin.
If that isn’t bad enough, anglers must contend with a long line of past tournament winners in hopes of boating this year's “big one.” There are 11 boats in this year's competition that have hoisted a winning blue marlin at the Big Rock weigh station.
The most recent winner, Pelagic Hunter II, captured the 2020 tournament with a 495.2-pound blue marlin.
Other past winners in this year's competition are Top Dog in 2019 with a 914-pound fish, Honey Hush in 2018 (518.5 pounds), Ashley Lauren in 2016 (621.4), Inspiration in 2014 (754.3), Hatteras Fever II in 2013 (465.3), Double B in 2011 (652.8), Sea Creature in 2009 (466), Samanna (II) in 2002 (541.5), Sea Striker in 2001 (515.5) and 1995 (400), Dancin' Outlaw in 1999 (600) and Waste Knot in 1998 (564).
Even the other podium placers from the last five years are back nearly in full for this competition.
There are second-placers Wolverine with a 588.9-pound blue marlin in 2019, Fender Bender in 2018 (514.3 pounds), Marlin Gull in 2016 (564.8) and EZ Boy in 2015 (556.3). There are also third-placers Predator in 2020 (494.2), Carterican in 2018 (500.9), Weldor's Ark in 2017 (484.9) and Ava D in 2014 (491.4).
The past winners present at this year’s tournament all have an intriguing victory tale to tell, too. Pelagic Hunter II of Sneads Ferry became the first outboard winner this century last year, riding a 35-foot Contender to victory over multi-million-dollar boats that often exceed 60 and 70 feet. The boat went home with a $223,263 payday.
Top Dog of Olney, Md., shocked the Big Rock weigh station in 2019 year with a tournament-record 914-pound catch from angler Todd Dickerson and Capt. Ryan Knapp, winning $793,188 in the process.
Honey Hush of Raleigh beat out a record seven blue marlin weighed on the final day of the 2018 competition. The 518.5-pound fish brought in by Capt. Chuck Lindner and angler Robert Gorrell beat out nine other blue marlin to take home $753,875 in winnings.
In 2016, Ashley Lauren Capt. Mark Annis and angler Doug Phillips reeled in their 621.4-pounder on the second day of the competition. The Atlantic Beach-based boat, which also won the KWLA tournament that year, beat out 175 other boats and three blue marlin boated on day 1 to win a payout of $662,925.
In 2014, Morehead City-based Inspiration and two-time Big Rock President Capt. Casey Wagner teamed up with angler Bruce Brown to catch a 754.3-pound blue marlin on the first day of fishing. Brown’s catch was the largest blue marlin caught during the Big Rock this century until Top Dog’s catch.
In 2013, Hatteras Fever II of Buxton beat out a fleet of 100 boats to take home $478,050 off the strength of a 465.3-pound blue marlin boated on day 1 of the competition. Capt. Buddy Hooper and angler Taylor Miller brought in one of just two tournament-legal blue marlin to the weigh station that year.
The top of the leaderboard was permanently set on the first day of the 2011 tournament. Blue Water Capt. Gray Hall of Morehead City fished the first day of competition and claimed that year's $284,750 Fabulous Fisherman’s prize with a 580.6-pounder. Two hours later, Double B Capt. Kenny Sexton of Manteo showed up at the scale with a 652.8-pound blue marlin that held the Big Rock lead through the rest of the competition.
The 2009 Big Rock was exceptional because two friends finished atop the standings. Figment Capt. Glynn Lofton of Swansboro held the Big Rock lead all week with a 439-pound blue marlin until 11 boats reentered the tournament later in the week after having used up their allotted days of fishing. Sea Creature Capt. Steve Coulter of Hatteras showed up at the scale late Saturday with a 466-pounder to seal the competition. The win gave Coulter, who captained Outlaw to victory in 1992, his second Big Rock championship and a payout of $746,820.
Newport Capt. Adrian Holler led the Sea Striker to a victory in 2001 thanks to a 515.5-pound blue marlin reeled in by angler Vince Johnston. Holler was also behind the wheel for a 1995 Big Rock-winning 400-pounder brought in by Rex Johnson.
In 1999, Dancin' Outlaw Capt. Thomas Wood and his brother, David Wood, reeled in a 600-pound blue marlin to win a payout of $472,750. The Dancin' Outlaw had a run of Big Rock success between 1995 and 2012. The boat finished third in 2005 with a 507-pound blue marlin and placed second in the release category in 2011.
In 1998, last-day drama was the name of the game as Waste Knot Capt. Kevin Clayton and angler Karl Knudsen reeled in a 564-pound blue marlin to win the 40th annual competition.
Winning multiple Big Rock competitions is a rare feat, having only been accomplished by three captains in the past 50 years. Dr. Leroy Allen, who won Big Rock competitions in 1962 and 1983, passed away in 2012. Holler won in 1995 and 2001. Coulter is the third captain to accomplish the feat, winning in 1992 and again in 2009.