Every July, teams of anglers venture into the deep blue waters of the Atlantic with one goal in mind: catching the big fish and cashing big checks at the Ocean City Tuna Tournament. Although Ocean City is known as the "White Marlin Capital of the World," the celebrated fish of the tournament is the tuna—bluefin, yellowfin, and bigeye. The hefty cash purse is divvied up among winning teams across several different categories, with the top prizes going to biggest fish and heaviest stringer.
Even though 2016 was a slow year compared to previous tournament years, the first place fish clocked in at 156 pounds... Not a giant, but no minnow either—especially considering it earned the winning team, Fish Tricks, over $200,000.
The waters off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland, are hands-down some of the most productive waters in the world for offshore fishing. Along with shelves, banks, and seamounts, the ocean floor is carved with dramatic undersea canyons thousands of feet deep. The Gulf Stream currents and subsequent eddies dance over the bottom structures, creating upwellings that carry rich nutrients from the depths to the surface and providing a fertile foundation for marine life. A thriving food chain is supported, from phytoplankton and baitfish to the top-dog predators like sharks, marlins, and of course, tuna.
For the Ocean City Tuna Tournament competitors, there's a daunting amount of fishable water. The tournament lasts three days, but each team can only fish two of those days. Fishing starts at 7 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m. Once the clock starts, it's a time crunch. Knowing where to be and when is paramount to finding fish, landing trophies, and making the podium.
And this year, the Huk team was there in full force to get in on the action...
In addition to sponsoring the tournament as well as several top competing teams, the Huk team was there to compete, put their gear to the test, and fish their hearts out. But this wasn't the team's first run at Ocean City tuna glory. In 2015, Ben Verner, President of Huk competed in the tournament along with five partners from Huk... And let's just say it was a learning experience. It was their first time fishing together as a team, and they hadn't yet worked out all of the kinks of competitive tuna fishing. The experience was humbling to say the least. But with the 2016 Ocean City Tuna Tournament, everything was different.
"I feel we got dialed in pretty well in terms of spread and gear," Verner said. "We're not going to be just flying blind anymore."
Taking a much-needed retreat from the endless to-dos of developing new product lines, getting samples made, and preparing for trade shows, the Huk team showed up in Ocean City ready to fish. Due to weather, they decided not to fish the first day of the tournament, focusing instead on getting the boat and all their gear ready for action.
On the second day, despite a crummy weather forecast, the Huk team suited up and headed out to find fish. Once offshore, the crew readied their trolling spread. Artificial teasers on spreader bars, squid daisy chains, and baitfish behind skirts were all rigged up on a well-orchestrated arrangement of outriggers and heavy offshore roller rods paired with 50-wide conventional reels. After all, you need heavy gear to catch heavy fish. Then the waiting game began...
"We didn't catch anything," said Doc Reed, Huk VP of Sourcing. "From the tournament starting time all the way up until about 3:00, 3:30... Not a bite. Nothing. Nada. Zilch."
But the team kept at it. Since they had limited time on the water to fish together, they decided to take full advantage of the day and fish until dusk, even though they'd be fishing after hours of the tournament. After all, there was no penalty for enjoying good times fishing with friends—though anything caught wouldn't be counted in the tournament standings.
"We decided to fish a little bit later and see if we could, you know, catch one and just get a little confidence in the situation," said Reed.
After fishing for several more hours, seven o'clock was approaching and they were getting ready to call it a day. But then, they got the bite they'd been waiting for! ... Or so they thought.
"The left inside rigger goes off, and I mean, it's scorching. We said 'This is our bigeye,'" Reed commented. The line started peeling off the reel at an alarming rate, and pretty soon they were into the backing and the spool was visible.
Drew Herma, Huk Director of Marketing, was the guy strapped into the fighting harness, battling the monstrous fish at the end of the line. Nearly all the line shot off the spool—and that's when they realized it wasn't a tuna like they’d hoped.
"The line's down, line's down, and we start pulling up on it. It's getting close... the guys have the gloves out, they have the gaff, we're ready to kill this tuna... And this giant blue marlin comes jumping out of the whales, thirty yards ahead of us," said Verner.
While this monstrous catch wasn't a tuna, the Huk crew had hooked into a 400 to 500-pound blue marlin. A true fish of a lifetime. The fight persisted, and the crew threw everything they had at the fish to bring it boat side. After a failed attempt at billing the fish, it ran off again for another 45 minutes of muscle-pumping battle. Herma's rod eventually snapped, creating a very dangerous situation in which he could have easily been pulled overboard. They broke the line off and counted the whole event as much needed practice for future tournaments.
"We managed to break the fish off. It was just the safest thing at that point. The fish was very, very healthy," said Herma. "This was a huge win for our team, you know, getting ready for these major tournaments... That's a money fish in other tournaments... And just the practice of working together and making it happen is something special."
The Huk crew fished day three of the tournament with no luck, but their tournament fishing career is just getting started. Their experience at the Ocean City Tuna Tournament might not have put them in the money, but it made their passion for fishing burn brighter and strengthened their bond as a team like nothing else could.
Huk is proud to sponsor the 2017 Ocean City Tuna Tournament! Join us and the world’s leading anglers July 14-16, 2017 for an incredible competition with plenty of entertainment, food, cold drinks and good times.