Fishing Tournaments on the Atlantic Coast

Mark your calendar for the next big competition


Sport fishing first became popular off the Atlantic Coast in the 1930s, when anglers discovered an abundance of blue marlin in the Gulf Stream and near the Continental Shelf. Deep sea fishermen began frequenting the waters off Delaware and Maryland, south to the Outer Banks, Florida and the Bahamas, seeking the challenge and glory of game fishing as chronicled by writers such as Ernest Hemingway and S. Kip Farrington. The Jackspot, an area 20 miles outside of Ocean City, MD, was for many years the most famed white marlin fishing grounds in the United States, with white marlin first caught there beginning in 1934.

What’s the attraction of deep-sea fishing and fishing tournaments? Well, it’s definitely about the competitive struggle of man vs fish, but it’s also about the adrenaline rush of going up against the best and coming out on top. And the money for ambitious anglers isn’t bad either, with prize pools in some events ranging from several grand to millions of dollars.

Many high-stakes fishing tournaments take place all across the globe, but for starters we’re going to look at a handful of the richest contests that take place along America’s East Coast, just to get your feet wet, so to speak. We’ve listed them here chronologically, according to their 2023 dates. Check their websites for rules and deadlines.

Boating crew holding their winning check, while posing in front of their boat and their winning blue marlin at the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament
Big Rock | credit Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament

Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament

Location: Morehead City, NC

Tournament Duration: 10 days

2023 Event Dates: June 9-18

Fishing Dates: June 12-17 (two lay days required)

Prize Pool: $5.8 million (2022)

Nowadays, the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament attracts competitors from around the world. But in its early years, it was barely considered a contest, let alone a tournament. There were no rules to speak of — just a simple challenge to catch the first blue marlin — and only a few local boats participated. In 1965, the list of prizes included a quart of varnish. From these humble beginnings, however, the event slowly evolved and became bigger and better. A handful of boats in the early years grew to 35 in 1970. By 1979, the tournament topped 111 boats, and in 2021 a record-breaking 270 vessels hit the local waters. Over the decades, this annual competition has changed its name, altered its format, adjusted its sponsorships and modified its rules, but the tournament’s board of directors continues to ensure that Big Rock always represents “good times and great fishing.”

A crew of men on the boat "Roll Groove" displaying their winning blue marlin at the Jimmy Johnson's Quest for the Ring Championship
Quest for the Ring Championship Roll Groove | credit AJJFISHWEEK Quest for the Ring, Atlantic City

Jimmy Johnson’s Quest for the Ring Championship

Location: Atlantic City, NJ

Duration: 8 days

2023 Event Dates: July 16-23

Fishing Dates: July 17-21 (fish any three days)

Prize Pool: $1 million base (2023)

Dallas Cowboys football coach and NFL Hall-of-Famer Jimmy Johnson is bringing his Quest for the Ring fishing tournament up north to Atlantic City in 2023, an extension of his Florida tournament that has operated every March out of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, FL. Quest for the Ring has a guaranteed purse of $1 million, and prizes can reach even higher the more boats that enter. With more than a dozen categories and calcuttas covering marlin, tuna, wahoo and dolphin, this high-stakes competitive sport fishing experience is bound to be a must-attend event on every serious fisherman’s tournament calendar.

Ocean City White Marlin Open

Location: Ocean City, MD

Tournament Duration: 7 days

2023 Event Dates: August 7-11

Fishing Dates: August 7-11 (fish any three days)

Prize Pool: $8.6 million (2022)

Known as the “World’s Largest Billfishing Tournament,” the White Marlin Open (WMO) has handed out over $86 million dollars in prize money since 1974. Celebrating its 50th year in 2023, the WMO awards catches of white and blue marlin, tuna, wahoo, dolphin, and swordfish. As the tournament’s website notes, one reason for the WMO’s popularity is “a format that allows each boat to enter the tournament based on their pocketbook, perceived skill level and targeted species.” Anglers can register for as little $1,500 to compete for $50,000 in guaranteed prize money or pay as much as $63,000 to enter all the added entry levels, with the chance to win millions of dollars.

Pirates Cove Billfish Tournament

Location: Manteo, NC

Duration: 7 days

2023 Event Dates: August 12-18

Fishing Dates: August 15-18 (fish any three days)

Prize Pool: $1.04 million (2022)

This year’s 40th annual Pirates Cove Billfish Tournament (PCBT) is the centerpiece of a week of fishing that also includes the Alice Kelly Memorial Ladies Only Billfish Tournament and the Sheep Dog Veterans Challenge. Over 1,000 boats every year enjoy exceptional release fishing during tournament week (PCBT boasts a 99% release rate). Seven categories in the main tournament include a mandatory C1 Team Entry category, and entrants must select at least two additional categories. PCBT also holds a Lay Day Tournament for boats that want to compete on their designated lay day.

Beach Haven White Marlin Invitational

Location: Beach Haven, NJ

Duration: 4 days

2023 Event Dates: August 16-19

Fishing Dates: August 17-19 (fish any two days)

Prize Pool: $500,000+ (2022)

The Beach Haven Marlin & Tuna Club sponsors this four-day competition targeting white and blue marlin, tuna, wahoo and dorado. Now in its 54th year, the White Marin Invitational Tournament is the oldest white marlin tournament in the United States, “honoring the allure of the chase,” as its website notes. As part of the festivities, a street fair called Marlinfest was recently added that features vendors, local restaurants and live music. Last year’s field of 53 boats was the largest so far, and the big winner was Crisdel, skippered by George Steller, which went home $117,876 richer.

3 men in blue shirts holding the bill of a marlin and pulling it off the boat at the MidAtlantic Tournament.
The MidAtlantic | credit The MidAtlantic South Jersey Tournaments

The MidAtlantic

Location: Cape May, NJ, and Ocean City, MD

Duration: 6 days

2023 Event Dates: August 20-25

Fishing Dates: August 21-25 (fish any three days)

Prize Pool: $5.25 million (2022)

This annual event is run out of two different East Coast ports: Cape May, NJ, where the Canyon Club Resort Marina is home base, and Ocean City, MD, with Sunset Marina serving as the MidAtlantic’s second headquarters. Some of the tournament’s 11 calcuttas are winner-take-all, while others are split proportionately. The minimum weight limits to win cash are 400 lbs. for blue marlin, 65 lbs. for white marlin and 50 lbs. for tuna. According to the South Jersey Tournaments website, the MidAtlantic has “continually set the standard for big game fishing tournaments in terms of prize money, hospitality, and conservation,” noting that each port has first-class accommodations and offers distinct amenities for participants to enjoy while dockside.

Virginia Beach Billfish Tournament

Location: Virginia Beach, VA

Duration: 4 days

2023 Event Dates: August 23-26

Fishing Dates: August 24-26 (fish any two days)

Prize Pool: $813,000 (2022)

Since its first run in 2004, this invitation-only tournament has doubled in size, and the prize pool has nearly quadrupled. Target species in the VBBT are blue and white marlin, sailfish, spearfish, tuna, dolphin and wahoo. Last year more than 80 teams competed for over $800,000 in prize money. There’s currently a waiting list to get in, but teams can be added by going to Note: the list doesn’t carry forward automatically, so if you don’t receive an invitation but still want to be considered for the following year, you need to reapply to the waiting list on September 1.

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