The crew of Ocean City-based Instigator brought in the tuna that currently leads the tournament. Right now it's worth $1 million. Photo: White Marlin Open

$10.2 Million in Prize Money at Stake in White Marlin Open

The self-proclaimed world’s largest and richest billfish tournament has outdone itself again. The White Marlin Open, celebrating its 50th year this week, has 400 boats fishing and the purse was driven up to an eye-popping $10.2 million. It’s a record for the tournament that routinely draws the most competitive saltwater anglers, including the likes of NBA legend Michael Jordan (his 80-foot Viking, Catch 23, is competing this week).

The tournament kicked off Monday with 378 out of 400 boats fishing. Several qualifying tunas were caught, along with dolphin (also known as mahi mahi) and wahoo. Seven non-qualifying white marlin were caught and released, prompting tournament organizers to point out, “They are out there and they are biting!” The tuna in first place as of Monday, weighing in at 199 pounds, was worth $1 million as of Wednesday morning. But anglers will be looking to best it as the week goes on.

On Tuesday, with questionable weather forecast along the Mid-Atlantic coast, only 22 boats went out. Competing boats can fish three out of the five tournament days. With so few boats going out Tuesday, the rest of the week is likely to be busy at the official scales at Harbour Island. A new leader took over for wahoo on Tuesday, but none of the tuna brought to the scales outdid the 199-pounder.

Wednesday morning, 383 out of 400 boats headed out, so all eyes will be on the scales in the afternoon.

When anglers bring back a big fish, they can choose to donate their catch to the Maryland Food Bank, which provides fresh fish to the local community it serves. The White Marlin Open says 30,000 pounds of fresh fish have been donated over the last 15 years.

In time for its 50th anniversary, the White Marlin Open has now joined the Sport Fishing Championship, a larger tournament circuit that will brings the White Marlin Open anglers more prize money.

Large crowds of spectators gather at the scales to watch the boats come in each evening, and even more attend Marlin Fest, a festival held at the Ocean City inlet from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day of the tournament. Fans and families can bring beach chairs and blankets to watch the anglers come in. Marlin Fest features live music, food and drinks and White Marlin Open merchandise. A portion of the profits from Marlin Fest goes to the  Ocean City Reef Foundation, an organization committed to the enhancement, and restoration, of Maryland’s seafloor by deploying reef substrates and monitoring coral coverage.

We’ll continue to watch the tournament’s highs and lows as the week goes on and update you on who takes home the big check.

-Meg Walburn Viviano