The last-minute white marlin that wound up being worth $3.2 million. Photo: Sushi Sportfishing/Facebook

Records Broken, Surprise Comebacks in 2021 White Marlin Open

The world’s largest billfish tournament brought no shortage of drama to Ocean City’s Harbour Island scales this year. A record number of boats (444) vied for a record purse ($9.2 million) and the ending was a nail-biter.

The very first qualifying fish of the tournament, an 82.5-pound white marlin caught by Mike Atkinson off Fender Bender out of Virginia Beach, held the lead and a $5 million payout all week—until Sushi brought in a bigger fish on Friday night, with just 30 minutes left in the tournament. Angler Butch Wright of Arnold, Md. caught the 85.5-lb white marlin. His crew takes home a record $3,238,160, while Fender Bender gets to keep $1.8 million.

SEVEN became the first team in WMO history to win two divisions, with this massive blue marlin and a 137 lb. tuna. Photo: White Marlin Open

Sushi Sportfishing posted a photo of the marlin as it was reeled in, with the caption, “Fish of a lifetime in the WMO.”

Another tournament first came when SEVEN, out of Jupiter, Fl. took first place in the tuna division, winning $1.2 million for their 137-pounder—then turned around and caught the winning blue marlin with a 775-pound monster worth another $1.1 million. No boat in the White Marlin Open’s 48-year history has ever won two divisions.

And one team caught a state-record swordfish, breaking the record set just two weeks prior in another Ocean City tournament. New Jersey angler Jake Bertonazzi caught the 318.5-pound swordfish about 60 miles offshore in Poor Man’s Canyon Aug. 6.

WMO weighmaster Alex Davis certified the fish and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources officially confirmed the record Aug. 10. The first state record swordfish was caught by Peter Schultz off Ocean City during the Huk Big Fish Classic in late July, as Bay Bulletin reported.

In an inspiring turn of events at the WMO, the crew of Knot Stressin‘, the 34-foot boat that sank 60 feet offshore on the first day of the tournament, managed to return to finish out the tournament on another boat. Knot Stressin captain Bryan Matz tells Bay Bulletin, four of the original six crew members that were rescued from a lifeboat by a fellow fishing team aboard Fishbone, got back out at the end of the week and caught a qualifying tuna.

“Although it was quickly beat out by a bigger fish, we were thrilled to have gotten out and back safely, made it to the scales in the biggest billfish tournament on the East Coast, and proved at least to ourselves that we can compete with the big boats,” Matz says.

You can watch the incredible video of the Knot Stressin‘, crew’s rescue here.

-Meg Walburn Viviano