Outdoors: Record purse, record prize at the Big Rock

— Mike Zlotnicki • July 2017

One boat wins over $1 million in prize money

History was made at the 59th annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament held June 9–17 out of Morehead City. The boat Run-Off won a record $1,161,450 prize as it scored a wire-to-wire victory with the first blue marlin brought to the scale.

Outdoors - Big Rock 2017

The crew of the Run-Off pose with their first-day catch, a 533.8-pound blue marlin that eventually won them the 59th annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament off Morehead City. Photo courtesy of Crystal Hesmer

Run-Off weighed in a 533.8-pound blue marlin caught the opening Monday by angler Matt Hanley of Glen Allen, Va. Hanley’s catch stayed atop the standings the rest of the way.

The team initially won $467,500 Monday because they weighed in the first 500-pounder caught by a team entered in the Level V “Fabulous Fisherman’s Winner Take All” division. Run-Off received an additional $693,950 for finishing first with the heaviest blue marlin.

Run-Off captain Brian Harrington of Morehead City and first mate Marty Hiatt, also of Morehead City, teamed with Hanley to help the angler land his first-ever blue marlin.

The 59th Big Rock had a field of 177 boats, but most were fished out by the final day. Competitors are allowed to fish four of the six days of competition June 12-17. Just 53 boats remained eligible to fish the final day, and choppy seas limited anglers to 11 releases: one blue marlin, seven white marlins and three sailfish. Anglers tallied 160 billfish releases during the tournament, including 78 blue marlins. Only six blue marlins were brought to the scales, giving the tournament a release rate of 96 percent.

Rehab won $250,720 for finishing second with a 506-pound blue marlin caught Friday by Ryan Howard of Savannah, S.C. Rehab captain Nathan Shepard of Statesboro teamed Howard and the mates to boat their catch in 75 minutes.

Weldor’s Ark, captained by Mike Taylor of Swansboro, finished third in the blue marlin standings to win $166,480 for the 484.9-pounder landed Monday by Greenville angler John Roberts.

Sea Toy, captained by Bull Tolson of Manteo, won the release division with 2,525 points. Sea Toy anglers caught and released six blue marlins and one white marlin to win $139,187 in addition to a daily $48,520 release prize.

Islander, captained by Bobby Schlegel of Greenville, captured the winner-take-all dolphin division with a 69.1-pounder that was reeled in Tuesday by angler Jess Powell of Nashville. Powell’s catch was worth $137,700 plus a $2,000 daily prize.

“This has been an amazing tournament,” said Tournament Director Crystal Hesmer, who has presided over the past 20 Big Rocks. “We had a record purse, a record payout to the winning boat and record payouts to our release winners. It’s really amazing.”

The Big Rock Board of Directors and its Charity Committee have focused on a core group of charities for the majority of the charitable proceeds from each tournament. The entire process is driven by the fit between Big Rock’s five-point mission statement and the destination of the charitable funds. In addition to these yearly donations, the board also reviews new larger-impact community projects. The donations are funded by the success of the tournament, sponsors and retail sales.

In 2016 the Big Rock board was able to contribute to their annual core donations but also fund additional needs within these core charities and beyond. Mount Olive University received an additional $100,000 for a new multi-use field, Beaufort Historical Society received $20,000 for a new pollinator garden, Carteret County Health Department received $11,500 for new equipment and the Hill Center/Carteret County Schools received $50,000 for iPad sets to assist in reading proficiency. Since 1986, donations have totaled $4,386,421.