If you want to know about the day the guys aboard the fishing boat Sensation landed a giant marlin and danced with Tina Turner because they were sure they had won $3.5 million, only to find out they hadn’t, you need to know about Ashley first. Bleau and the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament in Morehead City, NC
Bleau, 45, describes himself as an “eastern redneck” for whom business attire is shorts and bare feet. Like many people on North Carolina’s Crystal Coast, he grew up hoping to own a boat one day, and last year he bought a beauty: Sensation, a custom 52-foot fishing boat with a lounging cabin and bunk room. on the ground floor. He has used the boat to build his charter company, Sensation Sport Fishing.
In June, he entered the Big Rock tournament, joining 270 other vessels that put to sea for six days in hopes of winning millions in prize money and having their achievement engraved forever in the Big Rock fountain on the Morehead docks. City.
Since 1957, the Big Rock tournament, organized by a non-profit charity, has attracted sport fishermen from far and wide, including Michael Jordan, who competes on his fishing yacht, capture-23.
“If you grow up around here and care about fishing, Big Rock is your Super Bowl,” Bleau said.
Bleau’s captain was Greg McCoy, 56, who left his previous job in part because the ship he captained was owned by the woman he was divorcing. The only dedicated member of McCoy’s crew was Darrin Cox, a 21-year-old in a camouflage hat who nobody calls Darrin. He goes for Scooter.
Bleau found fishermen willing to pay for 24 shares in the boat at $3,013 per share, with different rates assigned to different days.
Sensation’s shareholders agreed that the people aboard any prize would split 70 percent of the payout among themselves. Bleau, McCoy and Scooter would get 10 percent each.
The first boat to bring in a marlin weighing more than 500 pounds would win the Fabulous Fisherman’s Award, valued at $739,500. The prize for catching the largest marlin overall was $2,769,400. The potential prize, then, was $3.5 million if he won both prizes.
The Sensation planned to leave Morehead City at 5 each morning of the tournament and find a place to drop their lines before the 9 am start time. Under the rules, anglers would have until 3:00 p.m. each day to hook a fish, and could fight it for as long as it took to reel it in. Boats had to radio the tournament officials when they had a fish on the line. They also had to provide video of their fish battles later to confirm that the catch was legitimate and that there was no trap. The winners had to take polygraph tests.
Many of the ships heading into the Atlantic had large, dedicated crews and sophisticated sonar technology that could find a fish in the water below, lock on it, and track it.
Bleau’s ship had none of that. To find marlin, McCoy relied on instincts and insights honed from him over 20 years at sea. Earlier this year, he and Scooter fought a 600-plus-pound bluefin tuna for 11 hours. They took it to the boat, then the line snapped and the fish disappeared.
“It broke my heart,” Scooter said.
On the first day of the Big Rock, the swell was eight to 10 feet high, and four of the nine people aboard the Sensation spent most of the morning vomiting. Jordan’s Catch-23 didn’t even come out.
Three boats managed to land blue marlin that day, although only one weighed more than the 400-pound minimum. On day 3, Sea Wolf brought in a 408.1 pounder and Predator a 459 pounder. On the 5th, two more large billfish arrived, including one from the Sushi boat at 484.5 lbs.
Sensation had one day left, Saturday June 17, to catch a prize fish.
As the ship put to sea that morning, Scooter, who doesn’t normally make bold statements, made a prophecy: “At 2:13 pm, we’re going to catch a marlin and you’re going to win.”
The morning passed quietly. McCoy looked for “tears,” places where hot and cold water met. They can create lines of kelp and trash where baitfish like to hide. That’s where the fish would be, he thought.
Sensation dropped the lines and trolled. At the end of one particular line was a Black Bart Super Plunger with a blue and silver head and red and purple stripes.
Scooter’s 2:13 pm came and went. Fish don’t wear watches.
But two minutes later, the line with Black Bart blew off the reel. “A hit you wouldn’t believe,” McCoy said later. The line shot from the rod with a shrill whine. Something was at stake, and it was big.
Bleau has it all on video. Scooter took the rod to the shareholder who was currently sitting in the chair: Bailey Gore, owner of a basement waterproofing company in Boone. Bare-chested and wearing sunglasses, Gore set up in a low squat to let her legs and his back do the work.
When the marlin jumped, they knew they had a good one. “If we can catch this fish,” McCoy recalled saying, “we’ll win the Big Rock.”
After more than an hour of battle, the fish made a final dive, descending to 1,000 feet, trying to escape. Then the line became heavy and stopped moving. McCoy, who has caught about 15 blue marlin in his lifetime, said the marlin probably had a heart attack and died. (Daniel Pauly, a marine biologist at the University of British Columbia, confirmed in an interview that a fish can die from overexertion during a fight.) His task now was to get the fish out without breaking the line. Hour after hour they uploaded it.
Once they shipped it, Bleau said, they knew they had won. The fish was a blue-black monster, its mouth frozen open in surprise.
McCoy set off for home, sailing at 24 knots to cover the 55 miles back to shore. He brought Tina Turner up and the team danced, drank and took photos with the fish. Bleau called her daughter. Scooter envisioned the boat he would buy with his share of $350,000, probably a white 28-foot center-console Contender, “something cool and fast,” he said. McCoy told him that he would introduce him to a financial planner so he could make the right investments.
They pulled up to the docks in the dark around 11:15 p.m. Word had spread about their big catch, and people filling waterfront restaurants and bars cheered as they drove toward Morehead City. A huge crowd packed Big Rock Landing.
The tournament’s weightmaster, Randy Gregory, who is a marine biologist, boarded the boat and inspected the fish. He quickly recognized a problem. The marlin had a bite mark on its tail, apparently from a shark, and a piece of meat was missing from its anal fin.
According to the rules, any fish that was mutilated during the battle would be disqualified. When a fish is injured, the angler has an unfair advantage.
Ideally, “when you fight and land this fish, you’ve fought 100 percent of the fish,” Big Rock president Emery Ivey said. in a facebook video after the tournament. The Sensation guys had fought 100 percent of this marlin, minus a couple of chunks.
McCoy said he had noticed “blemishes” in the fish, but said he had seen much worse in his career. “It never crossed my mind that I would be disqualified,” he said. “I may not be reading the rules correctly, but I have read them a hundred times.”
Sensation’s victory was in doubt. But out of respect for the crew’s efforts, Ivey said, officials chose to announce the weight: 619.4 pounds. She was the first fish over 500 pounds and the largest overall by 135 pounds. The crowd booed in celebration, but tournament officials said they needed to deliberate further and sent everyone home.
That night, additional biologists and experts were brought in to examine the fish. His conclusion: he had in fact been bitten by a shark, or some other predator, during the time he was hooked on the line.
The next morning, they announced that Sensation’s capture was disqualified.
“Nobody was rooting for those guys harder than we were on the Big Rock board,” Ivey said in an interview. “You know, they’re a hometown ship. Everyone knows who they are. But the rules are the rules, and in order to maintain the integrity of the tournament, we have to enforce the rules as they are written in our rule book.”
Bleau officially protested the decision and retained legal counsel. Neither he nor Ivey discussed any possible litigation. Bleau’s argument is that previous Big Rock marlins have come in with bites and are still counted as qualifying hits. Some people point to the 2019 winner, a 914-pound marlin caught by the Top Dog fishing vessel, as an example. But Ivey said the fish was mutilated only after the fight was over, when fishermen were loading it onto the boat.
Bleau has a lot of support in Morehead City. Her daughter made T-shirts identifying Sensation as Big Rock People’s Champion and sold over 1,000 of them.
It turns out that losing $3.5 million to a shark bite at the wrong time is the kind of thing that makes fishermen examine their true principles.
“I’ve never been worried about money,” McCoy said. “He wanted my name in that Big Rock font. I’ve been since I started fishing down here. And I thought I had.
The other day, Scooter was talking to a friend on another boat and telling him that he felt like he had won the tournament.
“But you guys didn’t win,” said another guy in the boat. He had been part of the crew at Sushi that caught the winning marlin.
Scooter shrugged and said, “We caught a bigger fish.”