Next month, August 6-10, the 45th White Marlin Open (WMO) will be held out of Ocean City, MD, and at the end someone will walk away with a check for over $1,000,000. It has been my good fortune to ride along on many of these tournaments, including the first one, so I have seen what it takes to have a winning team.
When you consider there can be as many as 400 boats entered with at least six people on each one, you can get some idea of the problem of finding a team that will perform when the time comes. Not that the time comes that often. There are many hours of staring at baits in the wake, rigging baits, cleaning weeds off of lures, and dozing in the cabin. These long hours and even days without a strike can lull inexperienced team members into a sense of complacency. In this situation, when a billfish climbs on a bait or lure, everyone must jump into action and do the job assigned to them.
This is the essence of a good tournament team. Every person has a job and each one knows exactly what to do. The team should be experienced because if your job is to wire the fish to the boat and you have never wired a fish, the results stand a good chance of being disappointing.
A good friend of mine, who has fished the WMO on many occasions, saw the daily meat prize slip away as his friend, on his first offshore trip, failed to gaff a big dolphin. Since then, my friend has put together a very good team. They fish together all summer targeting billfish on every trip.
Back in the 1980s I was onboard a new boat at the invitation of the boat builder, and when I arrived I found the tackle in a sorry state. They had spared no expense on Fin Nor reels, quality rods, and monofilament line that was older than dirt. We raised at least a half dozen marlin, and every one broke the line.
That night I raided a friend’s rod locker, and the next day we had eight good outfits with brand new line. Of course, that day we only had two bites, but we were able to release both fish. When you select a team, you want good, experienced people. That may or may not include relatives, friends from work, or your softball team. Once you have your team set, you have to go fishing. When you go, assign each team member a job. No matter what, that person has to preform that job. There is no taking turns on the rod. The angler is assigned that job with another team member given the job if a second fish is hooked.
If possible, the assigned angler should also learn how to hook the fish. Remember, you must use circle hooks in all rigged baits, and setting them is a bit different than J hooks. In most tournaments the mate can hook the fish and pass it off to the angler, but having the angler hook his own fish is a better way to go.
With minimum size limits on all billfish, someone must have the job of measuring any one that even looks close to the minimum length limit. There are several devices that will aid in measuring the fish while it is still in the water. Pick one, and learn how to use it.
Meat fish will need to be gaffed. Make sure your gaffer has the experience to do the job right the first time.
Stay away from the parties. There will be dock parties and all sorts of fun gatherings in town during the Open and for most other tournaments. You need a clear head to do the job of winning the contest, and a hangover at sea is not a lot of fun.
So what are your chances of winning the WMO? Well, it is a one-fish tournament, and just about anyone can catch one fish. The problem is what do you and your crew do when that million-dollar fish takes the bait? If you have trained the crew well and you don’t screw up running the boat, you should be bringing the winner to the dock.
As mentioned earlier, I have fished the WMO many times. I have been with some of the best crews on the water, and they have caught a good number of white marlin and a few blues. In all those 45 years I have been on a boat that brought a qualifying marlin to the dock exactly once.
What's New at this year's WMO?
The White Marlin Open (WMO) expects to give out more than $5 million to this year’s tournament winners. Prizes are awarded for catches of white marlin, blue marlin, tuna, wahoo, dolphin, and shark, as well as most release points by boat and daily catches of wahoo, tuna, and dolphin.
A new addition to the 2018 tournament is an added level to the tuna category, which will be available for a $3000 fee, with the winner taking all.
“Many people believe you need to be an experienced offshore angler with a large boat and deep pockets to participate and win in the WMO. That’s simply not the case,” said Jim Motsko, WMO founder. “Many of our participants have little to no experience. They also fish in groups where each person contributes to the entry fee and takes turns fishing each day. Anyone can win.”
On top of a group entry, participating boats can depart from anywhere within the 100-nautical-mile limit fishing boundary. Smaller boats do not have to launch from the Ocean City Inlet in order to participate and can depart from as far north as Barnegat, NJ, and Cape May Inlet, to all the way south to Rudee Inlet at the Virginia Beach Fishing Center. Smaller boats may compete against the whole fleet or enter categories limited to boats under 40 feet.
Spectators are welcome to view the weigh-ins free of charge at the official scale at Harbour Island each day from 4 to 9:15 p.m.