Hatteras-based boat lands Big Rock tournament’s first 500-pound blue marlin worth $1.7 million

A boat based at Hatteras Harbor in North Carolina made a big splash on the opening day of the 66th annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament on Monday, landing a mammoth fish worth more than $1.7 million.

Release, a boat captained by Rom Whitaker, won the Fabulous Fisherman’s prize of $1.729 million for being the tournament’s first to reel in a blue marlin weighing more than 500 pounds. The 504-pound blue marlin took an hour and seven minutes to reel in by angler Kirk Pugh, a Wilmington, North Carolina, resident.

The Release, though, fell out of the top spot later Monday afternoon for the tournament’s grand prize when a West Palm Beach, Florida-based boat — Game Time — brought in a 516-pound blue marlin. The Morehead City, North Carolina, tournament’s blue marlin leader will pocket an estimated $1.8 million of the more than $7.5 million purse, according to the Big Rock’s web site.

“I’ve been trying to win this tournament or just get a good place for 38 years,” Whitaker told The Daily News. “These guys have stuck with me through thick and thin. We won the release a couple of times, and we won wahoo, dolphin and tuna, and we weighted a couple of (marlin), but they just weren’t quite big enough.”

Release and Game Time were the only two boats to bring blue marlin to the scales Monday. The tournament lists 302 entries, and 270 boats hit the water Monday.

The tournament continues through Saturday. Boats are permitted to fish on four of the tournament’s six days

The Fabulous Fisherman’s prize was not awarded last year, so it carried over to this year’s tournament. A North Carolina boat last year landed a blue marlin that weighed more than 600 pounds, but the catch was disqualified under International Game Fish Association guidelines because a shark had apparently taken a bite out of the fish. Sushi, a boat docked in Nags Head, North Carolina, won the grand prize of $2.7 million with a blue marlin that weighed 484.5 pounds.