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White Marlin Open: 5 things to know about the 2020 tournament

Richard Pollitt
Salisbury Daily Times

UPDATE: Due to weather, the tournament's dates have been extended. 

The White Marlin Open will kick off its 47th year on Aug. 3 despite concerns stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The world’s largest billfish tournament hosts thousands of anglers for the annual event that awards prize money to those who can catch tuna, wahoos, sharks, blue marlin and, of course, white marlin.

Restrictions set down by state and local health departments have forced some changes to the event, but Ocean City’s signature tournament is still expected to be one for the books. In 2019, history was made with 404 boats and over $6.1 million in prize money.

This year's tournament was extended through Sunday, Aug. 9, due to the threat of a tropical storm.

More:White Marlin Open extends fishing days due to tropical storm threat

As spectators prepare to enjoy the 2020 tournament, here are five things you should know before heading to the scales.

Spectators won’t be permitted at the scales

Tommy Hinkle and the crew of the Fish Whistle pose with the 79.5-pound white marlin they caught to take the lead at the White Marlin Open on Thursday, Aug. 8, in Ocean City.

Fans will not be allowed at Harbour Island Marina, the traditional setting for the White Marlin Open weigh-ins.

Due to restrictions and limitations caused by the outbreak, tournament officials opted to keep spectators away from the scales and move them to a satellite location.

All public weigh-in viewing will take place at the Third Street ballpark in Ocean City in an effort to social distance.

"We know there will be both support and criticism of this decision, and unfortunately we are in a no win situation and cannot please everyone," a Facebook post from the organization stated.

Large screens will live stream the weigh-ins, allowing attendees to experience the excitement in real-time. Viewers can also see the live stream at whitemarlinopen.com. Vendors will be onsite selling a variety of items, including official White Marlin Open gear.

More:White Marlin Open: Public not permitted at weigh-ins due to COVID-19

UPDATE: Public viewing at Third Street will only be available Monday-Friday, and closed on Saturday and Sunday. 

The tournament is expected to make history again

There’s no fishing tournament like the White Marlin Open when it comes to prize money and number of boats.

The 2019 tournament saw history made as more than 400 boats registered for the five-day event and just over $6.1 million was distributed in prize money. Ocean City angler Tommy Hinkle took home the top prize of $1.4 million with his catch of a 79.5-pound white marlin.

As of Friday, July 24, the White Marlin Open has 165 registered boats with several more on the way. Registration ends Aug. 2 — the day before the event begins.

It’s unclear what type of purse the tournament expects given the effects of COVID-19, however, the total amount of prize money has increased nearly every year.

How does the tournament work?

Anglers are allowed three days to fish in the annual tournament that was scheduled to run Aug. 3-7.

UPDATE: The tournament dates have been extended through Aug. 9 due to the threat of a tropical storm; three days of fishing is still the max.

Boats can leave the inlet of their choice no earlier than 4 a.m. Each boat must stop fishing by 3:30 pm. If an angler still has a fish on the line at 3:30 p.m., the fish may be played until it is lost, boated or released.

Scales open at 4 p.m. and close at 8:30 p.m. If an angler radios to headquarters they have a fish on board that won’t make the deadlines, tournament officials can extend weigh-ins.

Boats usually fish from two to four hours off shore, so the activity at the scales is generally busiest from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Once an angler brings their catch to the scales, White Marlin Open officials first measure to see if it meets tournament requirements. If it does, it will be weighed, and the fish must again meet a minimum weight to be eligible for prize money.

The required length and weight for a catch depend on the species of fish.

The tournament has featured some notable celebrities

A White Marlin Open official brings a tuna to the scales on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019.

The world’s largest billfish tournament is expected to draw in some notable anglers, but 2019 saw arguably the biggest name yet.

NBA legend Michael Jordan fished in the tournament aboard his boat, Catch 23. Jordan and his crew failed to bring in an award-winning catch, but his participation in the White Marlin Open brought much excitement for spectators.

Celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, known for his role as a television personality on the Food Network, for which he hosted more than 2,000 shows, was also a participant in the 2019 tournament.

It is unclear if Jordan plans to return for the 2020 tournament. As of Friday, July 24, his boat had not been registered.

More:Michael Jordan in OC 2019: Locals share hilarious altered photos

Tommy Hinkle will go for a three-peat

The Reel Current, out of Ocean City, approaches the scales at the White Marlin Open on August 9, 2019.

White Marlin Open history was made last year when Ocean City local Tommy Hinkle won his second tournament title.

Hinkle first won the White Marlin Open in 2008, claiming just under a $1 million prize. His 79.5-pound white marlin catch last year made him the tournament’s only two-time winner. Hinkle also proposed to his now-wife at the scales in 2002.

“All it takes is one bite, and that big bite is all we needed,” he said last year. “We all know this is a one-bite tournament, and that’s all it takes; preparation, teamwork and opportunity, and it’s all got to come together.”

Hinkle fishes aboard the Fish Whistle, which has already registered for the 2020 tournament. He hopes to defend his title and become the White Marlin Open’s first three-time winner.

If you go

What: The White Marlin Open

When: Aug. 3-9 (Scales open at 4 p.m.)

Where: Viewing at 3rd Street and the bay, Ocean City (at the ballfield), only available Monday-Friday

Info: www.whitemarlinopen.com