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OCEAN CITY, Md. – In the previous 37 years of the White Marlin Open, Thursday has been referred to as “moving day.” In this five-day tournament, Day Four has often seen a big shake-up in the standings.
Going into the day, there had been only one white marlin weighed in that met the 70-pound, 65-inch minimums, although 220 “short” fish had been caught and released. And there wasn’t a single blue marlin on the board, although 22 had been caught and released that didn’t meet the 500-pound minimum.
The wind shifted Thursday, adding to the legend of “moving day.” Not only did two qualifying white marlin make the leaderboard, but a 699.5-pound blue marlin hit the scales at Island Harbor Marina, which put a buzz in the estimated 4,000 people gathered to watch the show.
John Schindler aboard “Restless Lady” caught the blue marlin. It was his first billfish ever.
“My arms were killing me at the end,” said Schindler, who is from Severna Park, Md. “I wasn’t going to give up for anything.
“It was a dream come true. It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
Schindler had previously caught big striped bass and tuna, but nothing over 100 pounds.
“Restless Lady” was already on the leaderboard with a 68-pound wahoo caught by Brandi Zirckel on Tuesday. That fish is in second place. The boat has one more day to fish in this tournament, which allows boats to select their three fishing days in the five-day event.
“The (blue marlin) hit about 10 o’clock,” said Capt. Sean Welsh, who competed in his first White Marlin Open 35 years ago. “Fifty-five minutes later, we had it at the corner. The crew couldn’t have done a better job. It was picture perfect.”
That blue marlin stands to win just over $300,000 if it remains in first place with one day left in the tournament.
The leaderboard in the white marlin category got filled out Thursday. Brian Kline of Laytonville, Md., remained in first place with an 86.5-pounder caught Tuesday aboard “Tighten Up.” That fish is potentially worth $800,000.
But Kline and crew have to be nervous because of the size and number of white marlin caught Thursday. John Schmitz of Westminster, Md., aboard “Sea Note” caught a 79.5-pounder to move into second place. Roger Mooney of Baltimore, Md., aboard “Penta Gone” caught a 75-pounder to take third place in the standings.
Another highlight Thursday was the first entry in the shark category, as Matt Cussamano aboard “Canyon Lady” caught a 107.5-pound mako shark. It was an eventful day for the boat that also had six white marlin releases.
“The mako just piled in with the marlin,” Capt. Jamie Diller said. “We had a nice day and the mako was a surprise. We had 10 white marlin bites today.
“I think we just got lucky and found a pod of them. Also that front coming through probably helped things. They were ready to eat.”
With the cool front moving through Thursday and 220 boating days left for the entrants in the tournament, Friday’s finale looks to be a grand one for the 38th annual White Marlin Open.