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The Big Rock Tournament

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On this day 66 years ago…

Sportfishing history was made in Morehead City, North Carolina. Back in the early 1950s, blue marlin were merely rumored to exist in the waters off the Crystal Coast. In the summer of 1957, the fledgling charter fleet was offered $250 silver dollars to see if they could find the elusive blue marlin and bring it back to Morehead City. Mr. Dick Parker of Parker Pontiac (now known as Parker Auto Group) along with four other businessmen started this challenge and formed The Fabulous Fishermen’s Club. The cash prize encouraged local captains to head further offshore than they had ever been before to prove these fish could be caught in local waters.

All summer long crews searched for the billfish, but it wasn’t until September 14, 1957 that the rumors were put to rest when Captain Bill Olsen and Angler Jimmy Croy successfully landed the first blue marlin aboard the 52’ sportfisher, MARY Z. 

This historic fish was taken off the 50-fathom curve and took 38 minutes to land. Fabulous Fisherman, Bob Simpson recalled the sound of firetrucks and police riding through town with their sirens going and lights flashing for this exciting moment!

When the crew arrived at the Morehead City Yacht Basin, the fish was tied up by the bill since no one really knew how to weigh it. That Blue Marlin tipped the scales at 143.5 pounds and was 8 feet 5 inches long, bill to tail. 

Their reward for the historical catch? 250 silver dollars, pulled to town in a child’s red wagon. 

A lot has changed in the last 66 years. Entry fees have increased from $35 in the 60’s to up to $52,500 today. The 1957 prize pales in comparison to the $5.8 Million paid to the 2023 winners. In 1973, Bump Styron renamed the “Fabulous Fisherman’s Tournament” to “The Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament” as we know it today. 

Throughout the years, Big Rock has proven that sportfishing is made for any and everyone. In 1998, Big Rock formed a ladies-only tournament to get women involved in competitive sportfishing. In 2008 the tournament was renamed The Keli Wagner Lady Angler (KWLA) Tournament to honor the late wife of Board Member Casey Wagner. Keli was instrumental in ensuring that proceeds from the Big Rock Lady Angler Tournament would benefit the local cancer clinic. Ironically, Keli and Big Rock share the same birthday, today, September 14th. The KWLA Tournament boasted 266 boats & an estimated 1,500 female anglers this year. 

The Big Rock tournament has long recognized young anglers who compete alongside seasoned deep-sea fishing veterans during the week-long event. In 2021, Big Rock added the Big Rock Kids Tournament to its schedule. The Kids tournament is the first of its kind, rewarding Jr. Anglers an extra 25 points for each billfish released. The primary purpose of the tournament is to raise additional funds for children’s charities while getting the next generation of anglers hooked on fishing. During the 2023 BRKids, the 73 boats and 350 Jr. Anglers released 224 billfish within just three days of fishing! 

Only time will tell what the future holds for the Big Rock. Just 10 years ago we thought a time would come when all boats would be outfitted with special cameras. Cameras that could verify catches and relay fishing action back to shore. Now with Starlink, that seemingly crazy idea has become a reality. Simple cell phone cameras can now be used to transport fishing enthusiasts offshore and bring Big Rock into the homes of millions of fans.

A glimpse into the near future… Big Rock created the Fabulous Fisherman’s level to honor the original founders of the tournament. Over the last 15 years, that prize has grown tremendously. Since there wasn’t a qualifying fish boated in 2023, that prize money will roll over to next year’s event. The 2024 Fabulous Fisherman’s prize will award an estimated $1.5 Million for the first Blue Marlin boated weighing over 500 lbs. Making the 66th Annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament purse over $6.5 Million!!

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