What factors justify the claim of “World’s Largest & Richest Billfish Tournament?” The number of boats or anglers entered, the total prize money awarded or the top cash award? All of the above? It is clear is that the White Marlin Open is a very big fishing tournament, but how does it defend the “Largest and Richest” tag? There are a number of long established offshore fishing tournaments on both coasts that have drawn anglers for generation. The Silver Sailfish Derby, established in 1935 by the West Palm Beach Fishing Club, the 58th annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament out of Morehead, NC, the 25th Annual Mid-Atlantic out of Cape May, NJ, the 34th annual South Jersey Shark Tournament, the 28th Annual Ocean City Tuna Tournament are a few of the long established sportfishing tournaments in the US. The Bisbee’s Black & Blue Marlin Tournament is the largest outside the US and has paid large awards since 1981 for winners of their Cabo San Lucas event. The largest tournaments (in number of boats and the biggest payouts) center on marlin fishing.
Participation: As far as boat/angler participation, the Open is way past “large.” As noted by Marlin Magazine, "By any measure, the White Marlin Open is a big one." From the 56 boats that entered the inaugural event in 1974, the WMO grew to a high of 449 registered boats in 2005. That same year, Bisbee Black & Blue had their top turnout with 185 boats and the Mid-Atlantic $500,000 had their largest attendance with 169 boats. The “Great Recession,” took its toll throughout all segments of the nation’s economy with leisure and recreational activities hit especially hard. Still, the White Marlin Open upheld their title of “Largest,” by annually drawing twice the number of boats than the next closest tournament. During the 2015 tournament season the White Marlin Open drew 308 boats with 139 boats entering the Mid-Atlantic and Bisbee’s Black & Blue drawing 121 boats. The just completed 43rd WMO drew 329 boats. There are very few fishing tournaments of any kind that draw the number of boats and competitors that the White Marlin Open attracts each year.
Prize Money Awards: How does the White Marlin Open rank in the amount of prize money awarded? The WMO was the first fishing tournament in the world to top one million dollars in prize money (1998), and the first to top $2,000,000 (2002). As far as individual awards, the White Marlin Open was also the first tournament to award over $1,000,000 for catching a fish. In 2003, Doug Remsberg earned $1,303,965 for his top white marlin, which at the time set a world record payout for catching a fish. That record was broken the following year with a $1,320,150 payout to Bret Jamison for his 1st place white marlin only to be topped again the next year when the top white marlin earned Ken Coffer $1,638,916 in the 2005 event. The 2015 WMO saw another “sportfishing tournament first”: the WMO record purse of $3,916,840 included two $1,000,000 winners! Cheryl McLeskey from Virginia Beach, VA took $1,176,113 for her top white marlin and Bill Haugland from Coral Gables, FL earned $1,006,247 for second. No fishing tournament of any kind has had two individual $1,000,000 winners in the same event.
Spectators: The White Marlin Open has a unique element that advances their claim as “Largest.” No other saltwater fishing tournament has a fan base like the Open. Thousands of families annually schedule their vacations around "Tournament Week" which is usually the first full week of August. It is Ocean City's busiest week of the year and adds an element of excitement not found during the other 51 weeks. An estimated 350 boats will compete for a predicted $4,000,000 in prize money with at least one angler winning over $1,000,000 during the Aug 7-11 contest and thousands of vacationers are drawn to Ocean City each year to share in that adventure.
There are many ways to enjoy the event. Early risers can catch the morning boat parade up close at the inlet in the predawn hours. Thousands gather to cheer hundreds of boats, large and small as they pass through the inlet to head to the fishing grounds. If you want to sleep in, you can view the boats returning after 7 hours of fishing and flying flags that tell of the days efforts.
The goal of every registered boat and angler is to weigh a fish at Harbour Island. That means they have a fish that meets the minimum weight/length requirements and possibly fish worth more than one million dollars. The weigh-ins draw thousands of followers to Harbour Island each evening during “Tournament Week’” to watch fortunes change hands at the tip of the scale, the spectators are “The 12th Man” and enhances the overall experience of fishing the White Marlin Open.
From a spectator’s view: "Out of the NHL, NFL, PGA, world class tennis, and the Indy 500, the White Marlin Open is absolutely the greatest sporting event I have ever attended, and I look forward to it every year."- Chris McCarthy, Charlestown MA.
From the angler’s view: “Pulling up to the scale and seeing all of the spectators felt like I was in the Super Bowl.” – Jim Freitas, 1st place tuna 1992.