Every year, the Swansboro Rotary Club Memorial Day Bluewater Tournament is a chance for the Swansboro Rotary Club to “pour its heart and soul” into a beloved competition.

Last weekend, that’s what the club did for the 42nd annual competition, which gave out a record $411,500 in prizes after three days of excellent fishing. The 52-boat field produced four blue marlin at the weigh station and released a total of 87 billfish, another tournament record.

“It takes a huge labor force to pull off something like this,” tournament co-chairman Brandon Sewell said. “It’s a holiday weekend, and everyone wants to be spending time with their families and friends, but they’re here and helping us pull this off like always. It’s incredible the amount of passion the organization brings to its events.”

Sewell co-chairs the event with Justin Cleve and Jamie Wallace, but he pointed out the tremendous involvement from other members the competition requires.

“With every event we do, the Rotarians are always amazing,” he said. “It’s such a well-oiled machine. Whenever there is something that needs to be done, it gets done with energy and a smile. People pour their hearts and souls into these events.”

By tournament’s end, “The General” was the blue marlin winner with a 532.7-pounder reeled in by Capt. Max Weaver and angler Don Wehrner. The Atlantic Beach-based boat brought its catch to the scales on Sunday.

On Monday, the tournament saw two blue marlin brought to the scales. “Carterican” boated and weighed a 430.1-pounder to take over third place until “Wasabi” showed up at the dock around 12:45 a.m. with a 445.5-pound blue marlin that took over third place.

The tournament delayed its awards ceremony at Big Rock Landing until later that night, but “Wasabi’s” late arrival forced it to delay it even further with final prize payouts still pending.

The billfish bite was hot and heavy all weekend with the release of 71 blue marlin, 12 white marlin and four sailfish.

“The bite has been extremely hot this week,” Sewell said. “We’ve never paid out the kind of money we’re going to pay out this year. Of course, that means more funds for the rotary club too.”

It looked like weather might take a bite out of the tournament with inclement offshore conditions on Saturday, but competition officials made the decision on Thursday afternoon to cut Saturday from the schedule in favor of Monday. The field of boats grew from 43 after Friday to 52 by the start of Sunday fishing.

“Things were looking really nasty offshore, so we had to make a quick decision,” Sewell said. “I think it worked out to our advantage, too, because we ended up with 52 boats, just shy of our record of 53.”

The tournament’s change in schedule prompted officials to move the awards ceremony to Big Rock Landing in Morehead City on Monday. That location has hosted this tournament and others for the last few years, a relationship Sewell says has worked well.

“It’s great over here,” he said. “The guys at Big Rock have always been really accommodating. (Big Rock board member) Richard Crowe has been on the radio since the tournament started. We couldn’t do it without him.”

Sewell added, “He’s there for three days in a row from 6:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. talking to those guys and letting everyone know what’s going on. He’s never charged us a thing, just does it out of the goodness of his heart. I told him with how busy it has been this tournament, we owed him an RC Cola and a moon pie at the very least.”

In terms of prize money, there were two notable payouts given before the awards ceremony. “The General” catch already won that boat $64,600 at the docks for the tournament’s first blue marlin weighing more than 500 pounds.

“Sea Striker,” captained by Adrian Holler, laid claim to $47,500 in prizes for the 50/50 Dolphin Winner Take All division that specifically benefits the N.C. Law Enforcement Assistance Program.

“The rotary club in general is our main focus, but that particular group is one we’ve put a lot of support behind in recent years,” Sewell said. “The other funds we raise from the event go to things like scholarships, Take-A-Kid Fishing excursions and the other community-focused projects from the club.”

In total, there were five blue marlin brought to the weigh station over the tournament. Those were: 532.7 pounds off “The General,” 456.7 pounds off “Marlin Fever,” 445.5 pounds off “Wasabi,” 430.1 pounds off “Carterican” and a catch from “MJs” that failed to meet tournament minimum weight standards.

Coming into the weekend, Sewell knew there was an itch to get out on the water and take advantage of a hopping bite.

“We had a huge turnout at Jack’s for the captain’s party, probably our biggest crowd ever,” he said. “The bite was really exciting leading up to this weekend, so people were ready to get out there.”

Email Zack Nally at zack@thenewstimes.com.

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