Last Friday afternoon, after five days of fishing at Ocean City, Maryland’s 2023 White Marlin Open, it seemed as if none of the 605 billfish caught by 400 entered boats would meet the tournament’s qualifying criteria. Then, just as the event was wrapping up, a local boat hauled in a 640.5-pound blue marlin that not only qualified, but won a world record prize of $6,235,436—the most money ever awarded for a tournament-caught fish.
John Ols, a resident of Laytonsville, Maryland, landed the monster blue marlin—and earned his team the hefty cash haul—aboard the Ocean City boat, Floor Reel. It was the third consecutive year a hometown boat won the top prize and only the fourth time in the tournament’s 50-year history that a white marlin didn’t qualify for a cash prize.
Ols’ fish was 118 inches long, the only billfish to top the event’s length minimums. Only two other billfish were even brought to the scales. A team from Manteo, North Carolina, aboard the Skirt Chaser, landed a 67.5-pound white marlin that just missed qualifying. And a team from Indian River, Delaware caught a 112-inch blue marlin that wasn’t weighed because it missed the blue marlin length limit by two inches.
“The 400 registered boats for the 50th White Marlin Open were probably the most conservation-minded group that has ever fished the Open—or any other billfish tournament held in recent memory,” tournament organizers wrote in a summary of the event on the White Marlin Open website. “Of the 605 billfish caught during the five-day event, 602 were released.”
While the billfish were relatively small this year, the cash prizes, at what has been dubbed “the World’s Largest and Richest Billfish Tournament,” were staggering. Ols’ top prize bested last year’s amount by $1.75 million, according to the Virginian Pilot. Prizes for the tournament’s top tuna ranged from $366,662 to $1,753,478. The top wahoo landed $31,065, and the top dolphin netted $82,520. No swordfish qualified for a prize this year.