For a photo gallery from the Open's first day, click here.
OCEAN CITY, Md. – There wasn’t a hint of daylight at five a.m. Monday, but the Ocean City Inlet was lined with spectators. They gathered to watch a parade of fishing boats leave the Harbor Island Marina headed for the blue water off the Maryland coast.
And there was barely a hint of a parking place near the marina Monday at 4 p.m. when a crowd of 4,000 to 5,000 gathered for the Day One weigh-in of the White Marlin Open.
Saltwater tournament fishing, on the surface, wouldn’t seem to be a spectator sport. But when you come to what is billed as the “World’s Largest Billfish Tournament,” you quickly realize that this sport draws a crowd.
Even the anglers seem to have a sense of how to please a crowd. When Capt. Jeremy Shandrowski steered his boat to the scales at 5:40 p.m. Monday, as the first boat to appear there, he already had the spectators’ attention. The first fish on the scales created an ebb in the enthusiasm, as the yellowfin tuna weighed only 45 pounds, five pounds less than the minimum to qualify for prize money here.
But instantly there was a new buzz among the spectators as several men struggled to lift a second tuna from Shandrowski’s boat, “Playmate.” When a large bigeye tuna pegged the electronic scales at 241 pounds, it was like the first touchdown had been scored in the Super Bowl.
“That’s a heckuva way to start,” said White Marlin Open founder and director Jim Motsko.
“That’s what we were hoping to do,” said Shandrowski, who is from Bel-Air, Md. “We didn’t want to weigh-in that big one first.”
Everything about Ocean City draws a crowd. This mid-Atlantic coastal city of 8,000 grows to a population of over 300,000 during the summer as vacationers flock to the beach and the famous boardwalk here.
Ocean City’s fishing is no different, as you might expect from a place that bills itself as the “White Marlin Capital of the World.” This marks the 38th year of the White Marlin Open, a five-day tournament that concludes Friday. Entrants are allowed to fish for the three days of their choosing. In addition to white marlin and tuna, the competition categories include blue marlin, dolphin, shark and wahoo.
“We’re the only tournament in the world that’s had 1,000-pound blue marlin weighed-in the last two years in a row,” Motsko said. “We had fabulous fishing last year. You could go all over the world, and it didn’t matter where you went, people knew we had really good fishing in Ocean City.”
And people know there’s some really good prize money paid to the top anglers in this event. With 237 boats entered this year, and most of them paying the $15,000-plus “across-the-board” entry fee in all the competition categories, that 241-pound tuna caught Monday is potentially worth over $300,000.
Dale Christensen of Hanover, Pa., caught the fish. It’s his first year to be a part of this event.
“I’m a little tired,” said a smiling Christensen. “But I’ll recover.”
Shandowski, 31, first fished the White Marlin Open when he was 16 years old. He competed again last year. This year he captained a group of friends, including Christensen.
“We’re not done yet,” vowed Shandowski, who predicted another eventful weigh-in on his remaining two fishing days this week.
One hundred forty-five of the 237 entrants picked Monday to start. Shawn Hann of Warfordsburg, Pa., was glad his boat, Marli, was one of those. With Capt. Mark Hoos, Hann landed a 58-pound wahoo, a long, sleek sportfish known for its 50-mile per hour line-peeling runs.
“It was the most intense fight of my entire life,” Hann said. “My arms were burning, my legs were burning. It took 20 minutes to land it, but it felt like two hours. Everything is just a blur.”
No white marlin, blue marlin or sharks were weighed-in Monday. But that’s just three more reasons why Harbor Island Marina will draw a crowd the rest of the week.