OCEAN CITY- The 26th Annual Ocean City Tuna Tournament got underway this week with dozens of boats and hundreds of anglers descending on the resort area for a three-day search for the burly behemoths in the canyons off the coast.
After a relatively slow start, the tuna bite has been red hot over the last few weeks with Ocean City’s sport fishing fleet returning to the docks each day with flags flying high and fish boxes full of tuna, setting up what should be a memorable 2013 Ocean City Fishing Tournament. Throughout last weekend, several huge big-eye tuna were weighed at the host Ocean City Fishing Center, setting the stage for a potentially great tournament this year. Last year, 76 boats participated and the total payout climbed past $470,000.
The event got started Thursday with a captain’s meeting and late registration under the tent at the host Ocean City Fishing Center before the first of three fishing days today. Captains and teams of anglers must choose to fish two of the three scheduled fishing days, which conclude on Sunday.
The annual Ocean City Tuna Tournament is one of the highlights of the summer offshore tournament seasons each year, second only perhaps to the White Marlin Open in terms of prize money awarded and anglers participating. Thousands of spectators will cram into the Ocean City Fishing Center over the course of the four-day event, which has become a celebration of fishing, food, drinks, live entertainment and, of course, the daily weigh-ins at the scale.
From modest beginnings in 1988 when just 38 boats competed for $9,000 in prize money, the tuna tournament has grown by leaps and bounds over the last two decades plus. Last year, 79 boats competed for hundreds of thousands of dollars in several categories. While the Ocean City Tuna Tournament might lack the prestige and glamour of the White Marlin Open, it certainly does not lack excitement and suspense.
After a modest beginning on Day One last Friday when 71 of the registered 79 boats in the annual Ocean City Tuna Tournament went out, the drama built steadily through the weekend as the leaderboard was written, erased and rewritten again through Saturday and Sunday. Just before the scale closed and the curtain came down on the 2012 tournament just before 7 p.m. last Sunday, angler James Romero and the crew on the “Absolute Pleasure” with Captain Willie Zimmerman pulled up to the scale with a massive big-eye tuna that would take the tournament’s top prize in the 11th hour.
The big crowd that had gathered around the host Ocean City Fishing Center on the tournament’s last day watched in stunned silence as the “Absolute Pleasure” crew opened its fish bag and revealed the giant big-eye. When the tuna was raised on the scale, the digital sign crept up to the 257 mark, setting off loud cheers from the crowd and hugs and high-fives from the “Absolute Pleasure” crew.
Romero and the crew on the “Absolute Pleasure” came in first and were awarded $224,116 in prize money. Angler Troy Graham and the crew on the “Reel Desire” took second place with its 202-pound big-eye and was awarded $30,978. Barton and the “Restless Lady” team took third with the 194-pounder and earned $25,715.
Crowds start forming around the scale at the Ocean City Fishing Center on each of the three days as the suspense begins to mount. The scale closes each day at 7:30 p.m., with the exception of the last day of fishing, when it closes at 7 p.m. The awards are handed out shortly after the scales close at the end of the tournament on Sunday.