NC boat wins $1.7 million

The RELEASE crew was elated after winning the Fabulous Fisherman’s prize of $1,729,750. (Picture by The Big Rock)

RELEASE, a 53-foot Sullivan sportfishing boat based out of Hatteras Harbor and captained by Capt. Rom Whitaker, won the Fabulous Fisherman’s prize of $1,729,750 for a 504-pound blue marlin on Day 1 of the 2024 Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament, held in Morehead City, NC.

Angler Kirk Pugh reeled in the big billfish, and because they were the first crew to weigh a blue marlin that exceeded the minimum requirement of 400 pounds, they pocketed the big check on the first day of the tournament.

“I’ve been trying to win this tournament, or just get a good place, for 38 years,” said Whitaker. “Over the years, we’ve won wahoo, dolphin, tuna, and we’ve weighed a couple of fish (blue marlin), but they just weren’t quite big enough. So, all I can say, is the good Lord came and showed me the way to go today.”

Whitaker continued passing out praise to others.

“These guys have stuck with me through thick and thin. And the person I have to thank the most is my wife,” he said. “She let me, 38 years ago, quit the corporate world and move to Hatteras and go fishing for a living.”

At 10:44 a.m., RELEASE boated the blue marlin and headed to the scales, arriving to an excited crowd at around 2:45 p.m.

Minutes after that marlin was weighed, GAME TIME, a 75-foot Scarborough, reported they boated a blue marlin and were headed to the scales. Even though GAME TIME missed out on the Fabulous Fisherman’s prize, they moved into first place in the Heaviest Blue Marlin category, along with its $1.8 million prize, with their fish weighing in at 516 pounds.

GAME TIME is captained by Capt. Ben Brownlee, and Clay Nalley was on the rod when the 516-pounder bit.

“It hit, and I hopped in the chair,” said Nalley. “It took us about 45 minutes. Everything, thank goodness, went to plan. We got lucky. Today was our day.”

When a blue marlin is that big, it’s tough to estimate the weight, but the crew was confident it was big enough to vie for the lead. Still, Nalley had his doubts.

“I didn’t think it was 500 on the deck. I’m shocked. It’s a lot of money on the line,” he said.

About Brian Cope 2787 Articles
Brian Cope is the editor of Carolina Sportsman. He has won numerous awards for his writing, photography, and videography. He is a retired Air Force combat communications technician, and has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of South Carolina. You can reach him at

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