Lightning Strikes Twice at White Marlin Open

The popular event yields a two-time winner in 2019

marlin leaping out of the water
While the heaviest fish may win the most money, very few are weighed in. A total of 1,459 white marlin were released in the 2019 White Marlin Open, a new tournament record.Richard Gibson

Amid record-breaking release and participation numbers, angler Tommy Hinkle landed the winning white marlin—a 79.5-pounder—on Day Four of the 2019 White Marlin Open to net his Fish Whistle team $1.5 million. He became the only angler in the event's history to win the tournament twice.

A mathematics teacher from Ocean City, Maryland, Hinkle fished with the same team for the 2008 tournament win, receiving a little less than $1 million for his 81-pound white marlin.

“It just goes to say that anybody can win this tournament,” he says, “and you don’t need a big boat to win a couple million dollars.”

This average Joe insists, “This is a one-bite tournament, and that’s all it takes.” Hinkle credited the win to teamwork, preparation and opportunity. “I can’t believe it came together twice.”

Release numbers were also the big news of the tournament. Surpassing the 2016 tournament's count by more than 100 billfish, a total of 1,459 white marlin were released in the five-day event, which is based in Ocean City. Brielle, New Jersey's Big Deal broke the 39-year record by letting go 28 whites to beat out Escapade's 26—24 released, two boated in 1980—for Top Release Boat honors.

Uno Mas placed second in the release division with 23 whites and one blue marlin for 1,785 points, and Tarheel from Wanchese, North Carolina, finished third with 1,750 release points for 25 white marlin releases; Ed Russo of Carlstadt, New Jersey, released 17 of Big Deal's 28 whites, making him the White Marlin Open Grand Champion.

Haulin' N Ballin's Craig Dickerson weighed the only largest blue marlin qualifier—a 465.5 pounder—for $962,165. Russ Garufi weighed in a 201-pound bigeye tuna to win a $935,915 payday for the Crisdel team, and the Big Fish bet was crushed with a 277.5-pound mako captured on Polarizer, netting the team almost a quarter-million dollars.

A record 404 teams participated in the 46th annual event, with 47 blues and 13 sails added to the history-making ­billfish release tally of 1,521.