Five days after landing a 572.6-pound blue marlin, a Virginia Beach captain and his crew finally exhaled — and celebrated — Saturday as they claimed the grand prize in the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament in Morehead City, North Carolina.
Captain Neil Sykes and his crew on the Mercenaria can expect to earn more than $3.4 million, according to the tournament’s website.
The crew landed the big fish Monday and waited through five days of fishing until the tournament finished Saturday afternoon. Although 162 of the tournament’s 266 boats hit the water Saturday, none of them brought a blue marlin to the scales.
“It was a very long five days,” Sykes, 41, said Saturday afternoon by telephone as his boat cruised ashore from the fishing grounds. “I made a joke that there are 250 boats out here full of high hopes and we’re the only boat out here terrified. It worked out, and we’re all really happy.”
The Mercenaria is owned by Chad Ballard, president of Cherrystone Aqua-Farms in Cape Charles, and named after a species of clams grown by the business. The 72-foot Viking, docked at the Virginia Beach Fishing Center in Rudee Inlet, includes crewmembers from Virginia Beach and the Eastern Shore.
The boat was one of 266 in the six-day tournament and was among those that brought in a blue marlin on the opening day Monday. The Mercenaria’s catch was reeled in by Cape Charles’ Matt Brown and earned $777,750 for the Fabulous Fisherman’s prize as the tournament’s first qualifying blue marlin over 500 pounds.
“It jumped quite a bit and then went really deep,” Brown, 38, said. “When it came to the side of the boat, we knew we were going to weigh it. I thought it was a pretty nice fish, but I haven’t caught a lot of blue marlins in the past. They look tremendous.”
Two other blue marlin taken Monday remained in second and third on the leaderboard all week. The Wall Hanger, a North Carolina boat, finished in second place with a 556.4-pounder, followed by High Yield (Charleston, South Carolina) with a 526.7-pounder.
The fleet vied in 10 categories for an estimated tournament-record purse of more than $5.8 million. Boats are permitted to fish on four of the tournament’s six days, and category entry fees range from $1,000 to $20,000.
The tournament’s web site on Saturday estimated the Mercenaria’s total haul for winning would be $3,489,813. The blue marlin’s second-place team gets $426,288, followed by $283,525 for third place.
Last year’s blue marlin winner took home a then-record $1,678,250. WideSpread, a boat out of Oregon Inlet in Nags Head, North Carolina, with anglers from Raleigh, was the winner.
Sykes, this year’s winning captain, has participated in nearly a dozen Big Rock tournaments, and has been a mate on a boat that won the Fabulous Fisherman’s prize for the tournament’s first big catch.
“The Fabulous Fisherman is really neat,” Sykes said, “but I’ve been chasing this tournament for a long time.”
“This,” he added, “is way better.”
Jami Frankenberry, 757-446-2376, email@example.com. Twitter @JamiVP