What factors justify the claim of “World’s Largest & Richest Billfish Tournament?”
Is it the number of boats or anglers entered, the total prize money awarded or the top cash award? All the above? What is clear is that the White Marlin Open is a very big billfishing tournament, but how does it defend the “Largest and Richest” tag? There are many established offshore fishing tournaments on both coasts that have drawn anglers for generations. The Silver Sailfish Derby, established in 1935 by the West Palm Beach Fishing Club, the 59th annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament out of Morehead, NC, the 26th Annual Mid-Atlantic out of Cape May, NJ, the 35th annual South Jersey Shark Tournament and the 29th 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 very large awards since 1981 to winners of their Cabo San Lucas event. To support our claim of “Largest”, let’s start with recent comparisons to the other top big-money billfishing tournaments.
Participation: As far as boat/angler participation, the Open is way past “large.” As noted by Marlin Magazine in 2016, "By any measure, the White Marlin Open is a big one." But the beginnings were humble and there was some doubt that the idea was viable. The first WMO took place during a 3-day monsoon in August 1974 and drew just 56 boats and approximately 250 soggy anglers, captains and mates, but the $20,000 was paid. The 1975 event had 75 boats and 101 entered the 1976 event which finally pulled the tournament out of the red. In 1977, Budweiser selected the White Marlin Open as one of 14 qualifying billfishing tournaments around the country for a chance to fish the Budweiser Billfish Championship. Helped by Budweiser’s endorsement of the tournament, the 1977 White Marlin Open drew 147 boats which was the largest turnout for any billfish tournament in the world that year and the Open has maintained the distinction of outdrawing all other tournaments in registered boats every year for the past 4 decades.
The WMO grew in the number of entered boats every year except for two: 1979 because of the "gas crises” and 2004, because of Hurricane Alex. The tournament reached a high of 449 registered boats in 2005. 2005 stands as a watershed year for most ocean fishing tournaments and many of them attained record boat entries that year. That same year, Bisbee Black & Blue had their top turnout with 185 boats and the Mid-Atlantic $500,000 had their largest field with 169 boats. The “Great Recession,” effected all segments of the nation’s economy with leisure and recreational activities hit especially hard. Still, the White Marlin Open maintained their title of “Largest,” by annually drawing almost twice the number of boats than the next closest tournament throughout the financial crises. Comparing the recent results of the major big money billfishing tournaments supports our “Largest” claim. Over the past 3 tournaments, the White Marlin Open drew 994 boats while 494 boats entered the Big Rock, 447 boats fished the Mid-Atlantic and 362 boats fished Bisbee’s Black & Blue. 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.
Totals for the past 3 tournaments: 2015, 2016, 2017
|Tournament||Boats||Contestants||Total Award||Min Entry||Optional Entry|
|Bisbee B&B||362||2,387||$10,110,000||$5,000||$1.5K - $71.5K|
|Big Rock||494||3,260||$6,230,000||$2,500||$1.5K - $22.5K|
Prize Money Awards: How does the White Marlin Open rank in the amount of prize money awarded? The WMO holds the world record payout for any fishing tournament: $4,970,000 in 2017 topping the previous purse of $4,165,960 paid by Bisbee’s Black and Blue Tournament in 2006. The 2017 payout lets us rightfully take back the title of the “World’s Richest,” to add to the long-held designation of “World’s Largest Billfishing Tournament.” The White Marlin Open leads all tournaments with over $63 in total cash payouts. As far as individual awards, the White Marlin Open was 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 then 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… except the 2017 event which awarded the 1st and 2nd place white marlin winners $1.6 and $1.5 million dollars respectively.
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. Generations 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. Thousands of spectators’ flock to the inlet in the pre-dawn hours to cheer for the boats large and small as they head out to sea in search of gamefish worth their weight in gold. Thousands more gather at Harbour Island to view the weigh-ins each afternoon during “Tournament Week” to cheer as fortunes change hands with the tip of a scale. This adds an extra dimension of excitement to the tournament as the WMO spectators bring their energy and act as a “12th man.” Chris McCarthy of Charlestown MA wrote us: "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."
Expert Testimony: Even before the huge payouts of $4.1 million and $4.9 million won during the last 2 tournaments, Marlin Magazine affirmed, in the March 2016 issue, “…the White Marlin Open is now the largest billfish tournament in the world in terms of participation and payout. “
We can justify the claim of being “The World’s Largest and Richest Billfishing Tournament,” but do we also have a legitimate justification to call the White Marlin Open simply, “The World’s Biggest Fishing Tournament,” of any kind. The answer is no. The quest for that title ended quickly after typing the world’s largest fishing tournament in the search box on the Guinness World Records website. Guinness certified the Bagdad Beach Sea Fishing Tournament held in Tamaulipas, Mexico, as “The largest fishing tournament” when 3,752 participants gathered along 40 km stretch of beach on September 9, 2012. Who saw that coming? While we did surpass that number in 2005, our 2017 count of 3,000 participants falls short. Maybe next year.
In the meantime, the White Marlin Open is committed to making the 2018 tournament our biggest and best event ever. You should expect nothing less from the “World’s Largest and Richest Billfish Tournament.”