Cruising Stories

White Marlin Open in Ocean City, MD


For one week in August, Ocean City, Maryland is the center of attention for billfish tournament anglers. Dubbed the White Marlin Capital of the World, Ocean City, Maryland enjoys as rich a tradition for its excellent offshore fishing as it does a family-oriented seaside resort.

From May through October this tiny seaside town of only 4.5 square miles draws singles, couples and families alike to its 10 miles of white sandy beaches, its historic boardwalk, its great restaurants, its popular night clubs, its fabulous shopping and its 18 world-class golf courses. With nearly 10,000 hotel rooms and 25,000 condo- minium units available, it's easy to see why eight million people visit this popular seaside resort annually.However, during one week in August, Ocean City takes on a whole different look, as big-game anglers from the entire Eastern seaboard and beyond flock there for the White Marlin Open. This week-long event is open to everyone and boasts as being the world's largest billfish tournament. Upwards of 400 sportfishing boats are attracted each year, each with the hope of catching a million-dollar marlin.

This year's event, scheduled for August 6 -10, marks the 39th consecutive year the tournament has been held, and the White Marlin Open has grown exponentially since it began in 1974. That year, the Open was the first event of its kind to offer guaranteed prize money, and the field of 57 boats battled for a tournament cash purse of $20,000; the top boat took home $5,000. Today, that would hardly be enough to pay the week's fuel bill for some boats in this tournament.

Along with growth of the event's field, the cash purse also has swelled, with well over $2 million awarded each year. Since it is a white marlin tournament, the cash purse is weighed heavily toward that species, and $1 million-plus payouts for big winners in that category have occurred on multiple years though it's not always the angler who catches the heaviest white marlin who walks off with the biggest check. In fact, not only was the second- heaviest white marlin worth more than the heaviest last year, so were the heaviest blue marlin and heaviest tuna. How, you may ask, is that possible? Part of the attraction to the White Marlin Open is the modest, by tournament standards, entry fee of only $1,000. That fee allows the entrant to compete for part of a guaranteed cash purse of $50,000, which is spread out among several categories including white marlin, blue marlin, tuna, dolphin, wahoo and shark. Once entered, participants have the option of entering any or all of the Added Skill Levels, known in sportfishing circles as calcuttas. These 16 tournament-sanctioned pools increase the payout dramatically, although you'll need a thick wallet to go across the board and enter all of them. This year you'll need to pony up an additional $16,000 to cover all these side bets.

The White Marlin Open also has a rich small-boat history thanks to its entry fee scale and the close proximity to the billfish-rich canyons. It's a scant 67-mile run to the tip of the Baltimore Canyon and only 60 miles to the Poor Man's Canyon from Ocean City Inlet. Thanks to better technology in navigation, fish-finding equipment and fishing tackle, as well as advancements in boat construction and engine reliability, the mosquito fleet can compete with the big boys and have been known to bump a few battlewagons off the leaderboard over the years.

The White Marlin Open spans six days, with five dedicated for fishing, and each crew can select three of these days to head offshore. A visit to any of the area's marinas during the week finds crews hard at work rigging baits, checking tackle and boat systems and, at times, socializing with tournament friends and fellow competitors. The tournament is very popular with many tourists whose vacations may have coincided with tournament week or were purposely scheduled to take place during the event. On fishing days, anxious spectators awake bright and early to gather along Ocean City Inlet to cheer on the tournament fleet as it departs before daybreak. The nightly weigh-in sessions, which take place at Harbour Island Marina, attract thousands of spectators who gather not only to see the fish being weighed but also to admire the fleet of beautiful sportfishing vessels.

Whether you're new to the sport of big-game fishing or a seasoned offshore tournament pro, the White Marlin Open is among several popular billfish tournaments that take place during August along the mid-Atlantic. If you have a lust for cash and feel you can compete with some of the best billfish anglers on the planet or would just like to see what all the hype is all about, make you plans now to be in Ocean City, Maryland in early August for this year's edition.

WHERE TO DOCK: Sunset Marina is Ocean City's premier full-service marina resort with top-of-the- line facilities, ample slips for large yachts, 80 slips with in-slip fueling, and easy access to the Atlantic. (410-213-9600,


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