With the United States Naval Academy and School of Seamanship in our midst, Annapolis’ connection to the sea has never been in doubt. However, while local vessels need to navigate the waters of Chesapeake Bay to get out into the Atlantic, nearby Ocean City has a much more direct route to the water – and everything in it. So, it’ll come as little surprise that the annual White Marlin Open takes place there each August.
Usually thought of as one of the calmer hobbies available to Marylanders, fishing’s potential for drama has nevertheless allowed it to take on a life of its own recently. For instance, in pop culture, the TV show Deadliest Catch introduced viewers to the perils of fishing up crabs in the Bering Sea. Over 19 seasons and 309 episodes, the Discovery Channel turned the show into a bit of a media empire.
Spin-offs called Dungeon Cove, Bloodline, and the Viking Returns have kept interest in Deadliest Catch going on our screens while a trio of video games arguably opened up the concept of perilous fishing to a younger audience. In other facets of the entertainment industry such as the online casino sector, PlayStar, a brand that provides Slingo for real money, offers one of the stranger riffs within the franchise. Deadliest Catch Slingo is a mix of slots and bingo (and crabs).
Of course, fishing has also been kept relevant through its inclusion in all sorts of video games – but none of them really capture the essence of real fishing. This is where the White Marlin Open comes in. This year, the event broke a world record for the number of competitors, prize money, and overall hauls. In the latter case, Maryland native John Ols reeled in a 640.5 lb blue marlin, a catch that netted Ols a $6.2m payday.
NOTE: The event below, Arts Alive 25, was held on September 8, 2023.
Established on the back of a 1939 recommendation by FDR, the White Marlin Open is a bill fishing tournament that catches (and releases) marlin, tuna, wahoo, and other large fish. Much of the action takes place in the Ocean City inlet but weigh-ins are done on Harbour Island. This year, 400 boats participated in tournament week, which closed on the 11th, but only 25 were able to earn prizes.
The 2023 White Marlin Open was reported on up and down the coast, and as far away as Fort Myers in Florida. Hailing from the Sunshine State, angler Chad Jackson claimed a $31,000 prize in the Open with a 55lb wahoo. Jackson and fellow Floridian Jeff Williams only needed a few hours on the first morning to catch the fish that would ultimately win them part of the $10m purse.
The White Marlin Open has an all-comers approach to competition, meaning that anybody is able to win a prize. The contest’s hall of fame reveals the legend of the Lazy Bones vessel, which won $1.3m with the crew’s first-ever billfish catch, a white marlin. In fact, more than $2m has been handed out to novice entrants since 1989. Its enduring appeal means that the Open is bound to be back next year too.