In 1959 a dedicated group of offshore anglers established a fishing club with 23 members known as the Snug Harbor Marlin and Tuna Club. The club grew quickly and eventually became known as the Ocean City Marlin and Tuna Club. Today the OCMTC continues as a fishing club based in “Americas Greatest Family Resort”, with a 58 year history of camaraderie and family oriented tournaments. All of the OCMTC sponsored tournaments are for nothing more than bragging rights, with the exception of the clubs “signature” tournament. That tournament, now known as the Ocean City Marlin and Tuna Club Overnight Billfish Tournament, will mark its 40th Anniversary during the upcoming 2017 fishing season.
Originally the brainchild of longtime member and 1978/1979 Commodore Tony Faraco, the inaugural tournament was held In August of 1978. Then known as the Ocean City Swordfish Open, the tournament was the first North Atlantic swordfish tournament of record. The tournament eventually became known as the Ocean City Marlin and Tuna Club Overnight Swordfish Tournament, and finally evolved to the current configuration.
That first swordfish tournament began in the late morning of Friday, August 18th, 1978 with forty-two boats gathered off the Ocean City Yacht Club. Anticipation was high as Captains and crew waited to follow a US Coast Guard escort through the GE Inlet in-route to the offshore Canyons. The Coast Guard followed the fleet to the edge, and kept a watchful eye over the participants and constant radio contact throughout the two day event. And incredibly, with the help of some donated set-ups, the Coast Guard cutter’s crew even caught a swordfish of their own! The first tournament was both historic and record setting. Awards for the heaviest swordfish resulted in broadbills of just over 200 pounds for the 1st thru 3rd place fish. In total, an unbelievable 42 swordfish were caught, along with tuna, mahi-mahi and wahoo. In addition, a remarkable 76 marlin were caught! The inaugural event was such a success that Marlin Magazine reported that the tournament was one of the most productive ever, based on the number of boats involved and the recorded catch.
In the years that followed, participation in the Overnight Tournament grew to over 100 boats. Tournament highlights through the years include a first place Swordfish of over 313 pounds in 1979, caught by Steve Colanero’s Ditch Digger. And can you believe the Coast Guard Cutter Cape Star caught a Blue Marlin on that second year of the tournament? Their fish weighed enough to secure first place in the Blue Marlin category. The boys from the U.S.C.G. were on a roll! In 1982 and 1983 winning swordfish weighed 370 ½, (Wood Ju Pat), and 414 pounds, (Pill Roller), respectively. In 1984 an OCMTC record setting 600LB (plus) blue marlin was weighed by Jim Carroll on the Lucky Linda. That record still stands today, but an official weight could never be determined as the capacity of the scale was maxed out by the impressive fish. Ron Levy’s Sea Splendor was a close second with a 593 pound blue that same year.
Other notable events in the history of the tournament included the first Bimini start scheduled for the 1986 event. Unfortunately Mother Nature had other ideas, and a Hurricane forced the first weather related cancellation of the tournament. But tournament director Bob McMurray was undeterred, and scheduled a Bimini start for the 1987 tournament. The end result was many colorful stories of the ensuing chaos the start produced. Imagine having 94 boats running for the horizon after a countdown on the VHF and a firing of a flare gun. Unfortunately, as the fleet ran for the edge, conditions deteriorated rapidly. The extremely rough seas took their toll on men and machines, and a number of boats were forced to return to Ocean City, either with mechanical or crew issues. But for those that endured, two blue marlin, 35 white marlin, (with 33 released), and 28 tuna were the reward. It was after the 1987 tournament that the name was changed to the Overnight Billfish Tournament due to the declining swordfish population. In 1989 representatives of Sportfishing Magazine fished the tournament, and published an article on the event. In the early 1990’s Blue Marlin took center stage. In 1993 Don Dolaway’s Scrappy won the tournament, weighing Blue Marlin of 234 pounds and 120 pounds. In 1994 Marty Whalen won with a 624 pound Blue Marlin on Harry II. But then Jack Davidson broke the string and took the top spot with a Big Eye Tuna of 200 pounds in 1995 fishing on the Fisherman Joe. In addition, 1995 was the first year categories were incorporated for Junior Anglers. The second weather related cancellation occurred in 1998 when the arrival of Hurricane Bonnie coincided with the scheduled date of the event. With weather inconsistencies in mind, the Tournament Committee eventually extended the number of allowable fishing days, and the tournament became the weeklong event that is held today. This change allowed Captains’ to choose the best possible two day weather window for an overnight trip.
However, changes to the tournament format continued, as the Club continued to adapt to changes in the sport. With billfish conservation in mind, the tournament became a release only tournament in the Blue and White Marlin categories. As a result, in the mid 2000’s White Marlin releases began to dominate. Pat Healey’s Viking 68 released 7 Whites and a Blue to take the top spot in 2005. The Garrison’s chartered John Romando’s Sea Mistress, and won the tournament by releasing 14 White Marlin in 2006, (narrowly beating Viking 68 with a battle near 1500 fathoms). But Viking 68 reclaimed the winning spot in 2007 with 6 releases. In 2009 the trend continued with Rich Ryan’s Anthracite releasing 7 White Marlin and 2 Blue Marlin, narrowly beating Exile’s tally of 7 White Marlin and 1 Swordfish. Then in 2012 tournament records for single boat releases were broken when Anthracite returned with 17 releases, only to be surpassed by Jim Foulke and the crew of the Trust Me’s 19 releases, and Viking 70’s record 26 releases! But in 2013 the tuna category made a strong return. Trust Me Too won the tournament with a total of 477 total points, and Viking 70 took second with 307 mostly tuna generated points. In 2014 George Robinson III’s Polarizer took top honors. The Polarizer crew released 7 White Marlin and weighed 5 Tuna. That same year, the Sullivan family’s Emanon released 8 White Marlin, weighed 2 tuna and 1 dolphin to take second place. In 2015 Charles Dolaway’s Capt. Chazz won the tournament with 11 White Marlin releases and a 194 pound tuna. Emanon took second with 7 releases and tunas that weighed 131 and 113 pounds. Ted Wood’s Woodshed took third with 7 releases and a 119 pound tuna. George Robinson’s Polarizer, and XYZ also hung 7 release flags that year. In total, 73 Billfish were released in 2015.
In addition, swordfish made a return to the scales after a long absence with John Imbesi’s Huntress weighing a 157 pound fish. In 2016 Frank Maatje’s Oh Well with Paul Zgalich and crew took top honors with impressive Big Eye Tuna catches of 277, 169, and 130 pounds. And broadbills continued to show again with weigh-ins by Inflexible (155LBS), Huntress (120LBS), and Polarizer (105LBS).
Two years ago a major change to the tournament format was instituted. The rules were revised to allow participants the option of fishing one overnight trip, or two single day trips out of five fishing days. This unique format allows smaller boats and center consoles to participate and compete with the larger sport fishing rigs, and pick the day that best suits your boat, crew and schedule. Initial feedback on the format change has been positive, as center consoles continue to gain market share, and also increase in size, range, and amenities. With low registration fees, two fishing format options, and a small boat friendly five day weather window, the Ocean City Marlin and Tuna Club Overnight Billfish Tournament is the ideal event for all levels of offshore skill and experience. It’s a fun tournament with a focus on family, friendship, and a long history of tradition. Forty years’ worth of tradition.
This year’s OCMTC Overnight Billfish Tournament will be held from August 13th thru August 20th. Boats may leave any inlet from Manasquan Inlet to Cape May Inlet. The tournament begins with a Captains’ Meeting and prime rib dinner at the Ocean City Yacht Club, and wraps up with an Awards Barbecue and cocktail party on the bay-front deck of the OCYC. Participants’ compete for cash and prizes worth over $40,000, with small boat awards for boats 36 feet and smaller. For information go to www.ocmtc.com, or contact the OCMTC Overnight Billfish Tournament Director Brian Logue @ firstname.lastname@example.org.