Contest win becomes a bonding experience

Submitted photo
Four local men took top honors in the White Marlin Open in the yellow fin tuna small boat division. Seen here with their award check are, from the left, J.C. Collins, Jake Coleman, Frank Whirley and Frankie Whirley.

OCEAN CITY — Sometimes, it’s about more than just the biggest fish.

J.C. Collins, Jake Coleman, Frank Whirley and his son Frankie Whirley won first place in the White Marlin Open in the yellow fin tuna small boat division on the weekend of Aug. 9 and 10. Their winning catch weighed 121 pounds, and was pulled aboard the “Sentient.”

But maybe it was the father-son time that meant the most. Frankie Whirley shared his thoughts about spending the exciting day with his father, Frank.

“This says it all, a lifetime dream came true for me,” the younger Mr. Whirley posted online. “A lot of people will say it’s luck and a lot of people will say it’s a fluke, but I’ve watched this man catch big fish each and every fishing trip, year after year.”

The 2020 event wrapped up Sunday night with two new tournament record fish, three newly minted millionaires and a world record tournament payout. The 433 registered boats braved a world pandemic and a menacing hurricane to haul in fish that were collectively worth $6.8 million dollars during the weeklong event — it represents the most tournament money ever awarded in fishing, a statement from the organizers said.

The top prize of $1.85 million went to the “Canyon Blues” out of Ocean City, for the huge 97-pound white marlin caught by Brandon Golueke from Chester on Saturday. That fish stands as the third-largest white marlin weighed in the 47-year White Marlin Open history.

The tuna division produced the third million-dollar winner. The rules state that if no blue marlin is caught, that prize money goes to white marlin winners.
The lack of a qualifying blue marlin had an impact on the above white marlin by adding over $500,000 to their winnings. But the biggest benefactor of the vacant blue marlin division turned out to be Ocean City’s “Restless Lady.”
Already winning $900,000 for the 114.5-pound bluefin tuna brought in on Monday, the $417,000 in the blue marlin winner-take-all division defaulted to the biggest tuna entered in that level which was the “Restless Lady.” The Ocean City boat added that extra money to bring the winnings to over $1,400,000 for angler Travis Ort from York, Pa. Rounding out the tuna division were the “Sentient” out of Slaughter Creek, with a 121-pounder worth $100,000, the “The “Blue Runner” from Manasquan, NJ that took $165,000, and the “Swords Fish” from Indian River, Delaware that held on to win $150,000 for their 92-pound tuna.

The 2020 event saw two WMO record catches. A 47-year-old tournament record 73.5-pound dolphin was caught Friday by Matt Wagner off the “Backlash,” and was worth $20,000.
The second record catch was a 273.5-pound swordfish landed by Kyle Gagliardi from Vineland, N.J. Gagliardi is a professional bass fisherman who took a busman’s holiday to land the saltwater billfish. Fishing off the “Jersey Boy” Gagliardi took $375,000 in the tournament Big Fish category.

There were 896 billfish caught during the 7-day event with 837 released.
“It’s over whelming to say the least,” Mr. Coleman wrote. “The blessing was the experience of taking the scales with the leaderboard and all the tuna steaks. Watching Big Tuna Frank Whirley live his dream was enough. The crew was amazing and my new buddy J.C. Collins I feel very fortunate to have met.”

That’s a lot of excitement for all the winners, but the Dorchester group might have experienced the most meaningful day. The prize-winning catch could even be considered something of a family tradition.

“Add that to the fact that Pop Pop Floyd was on the winning boat in the White Marlin Open all those years ago, this is nothing but destiny,” Mr. Whirley wrote about his father. “The adversity that you’ve gone through would easily break the average man. But you kept your head up, never complained, and kept right on moving. We talked about this happening every single time we were together. You always said that you were going to win and nothing has been more awesome than watching your dreams become a reality. I’ve never been more proud to share your name. I’ll walk with you anywhere, love ya dad.”

A complete list of all tournament winners can be found on the tournament website at whitemarlinopen.com.