Angler Speaks Out About $3.5 Million Disqualified Marlin

Angler Speaks Out About $3.5 Million Disqualified Marlin

The angler who landed a 619.4-pound blue marlin at a North Carolina fishing tournament is speaking out about what he says was an incorrect decision by tournament officials. They ruled that even though the fish beat the next largest marlin by 135 pounds, the wounds on its body and tail disqualified it from the $3.5 million first-place prize.

“I don’t feel like the wounds on that fish would have affected it whatsoever,” Bailey Gore, 27, told MeatEater. “It’s like if a human had scraped his knee. It might hurt a little bit or bleed a little bit, but if we’re in a life-or-death situation, it’s not going to change that. We’re going to keep fighting.”

The fish was caught by the boat Sensation during the final hour of the final day of the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament in Morehead City, North Carolina, on June 17th. Tournament officials gave the fish an unofficial weight on Saturday and then issued their final decision Sunday morning.

“After careful deliberation and discussions…it was determined that Sensation’s 619.4-lb blue marlin is disqualified due to mutilation caused by a shark or other marine animal,” the official statement read. “It was deemed that the fish was mutilated before it was landed or boated and therefore it was disqualified.”

The statement refers to Rule #23 in Big Rock’s official rulebook, which mirrors a similar rule from the International Game Fish Association. In a YouTube video explaining the rule, Jack Vitek of the IGFA says that a fish that has been mutilated by another marine mammal or a boat’s propeller is “not going to be fighting to its full potential.”

Gore agrees that if a fish has had its tail bitten off, for instance, it shouldn’t qualify for a prize. But he says the wounds on the Sensation’s fish were “just a nibble off the side, superficial, in my opinion.”

Six hours elapsed from the time the marlin grabbed the hook at 2:15 pm to the time the crew got it aboard. Gore manned the reel for the first three-and-a-half hours, and then he had to be relieved by one of his boatmates. They switched back and forth until Gore finally reeled the fish to the boat.

“It is grueling, to say the least,” he said. “It’s nonstop reeling. You reel for four or five seconds, the fish will take line for a few seconds, and you reel for four or five more seconds. It’s crazy.”

Gore, a foundation repair contractor, was on the boat with what he describes as a group of “working men.” He got to operate the reel because he’d drawn a card that gave him that right during that hour. “We’re not the ones with a bunch of money out there fishing. We’re just working men, out there trying to have a good time,” he said.

The fish was dead by the time they landed it, which Gore says sometimes happens. The fish dove down to about 1,000 feet, at which point he thinks it had a heart attack and died. The last few hours the crew was “just winching it off the bottom, essentially.” While Gore admits that it’s impossible to say for sure, he believes other fish took bites from the marlin after it was dead.

“We definitely don’t think it was while we were physically fighting the live fish,” he said. He believes they would have noticed something large chewing on their catch, so, “whatever it was, was small. Three or four feet at best.”

They noticed scars on the fish when they rolled it over on the boat, but Gore says they weren’t concerned. But when they got back to the dock “we started to suspect something was up.”

“They wouldn’t give us our weight or announce to the crowd what was going on,” Gore said. “They finally decided to tell us the weight and everybody went crazy. But they said it was ‘unofficial.’ And they said the board would make a decision by the next morning.”

When they received the bad news, Gore described it as “heartbreaking.”

“It was pretty rough hearing that. We still had hope until that point, sitting on pins and needles,” he said.

The boat’s owner, Ashley Bleau, has submitted a petition appealing the decision, and it’s unclear how long that process will take.

Big Rock tournament president Emery Ivey issued a video statement today responding to the controversy. He likened the rules governing his tournament to the rules governing other sports and argued that all competitors agree to abide by them.

“Nobody gets an advantage,” he said. “When you fight and land this fish, you have fought 100% of the fish. Nothing at any time during the fight of the fish did something happen that will give you an advantage over the next guy.”

He explained that the tournament’s weighmaster noticed wounds on the Sensation’s marlin near the tail and the anal fin. He said that unlike another fish in 2019 that was wounded after being landed, the Sensation’s fish was wounded during the fight itself.

Gore disagrees that the fish was in any way incapacitated, and he was obviously disappointed with the outcome. But he still described the experience as “incredible.”

“The paycheck would be pretty cool, but the experience is worth it all,” he said.

Feature image via The Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament Facebook Page.

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