ATLANTIC BEACH, N.C. — The 66th annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament runs through Saturday. In Morehead City, Big Rock Landing is the hub with visitors crowding around to see what the boats are bringing in after a long day of fishing.

What You Need To Know

  • The 66th annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament is running through Saturday

  • A record 302 boats are competing for the biggest fish this year

  • The crews head 60 miles offshore and look for water temperature and bait fish to find their catches

  • Owners of the Never Enough are trying to make fishing in Big Rock affordable for more people

But the real excitement is out on the water.

For crews on the boat, it’s an early morning. On board the Never Enough, the crew and anglers leave at 5 a.m. to get far enough into the ocean to find billfish like mahi, wahoo and blue marlin.

The boats leave at 5 a.m. so they can get an early start in the Big Rock tournament. (Spectrum News 1/Jenna Rae Gaertner)

“Before we even leave the dock, we're looking for water temperatures, water breaks, eddies, which are two currents converging,” said Aaron Barr, a mate on the Never Enough.

Once the sun comes up and 9 a.m. hits, it’s lines in and the day gets started.

“My favorite fish to catch is the one that are biting,” Barr said.

Barr has been fishing his entire life.

“People think the ocean is just full of fish,” Barr said. “It is, but 90% of your fish are caught in 10% of your ocean.”

It’s his job to make sure the lines are in the water, attracting fish and ready for a bite.

“All that commotion is bringing the fish's attention to the surface,” Barr said. “But your biggest teaser is your boat. All that white water gets their attention.”

Sometimes, they spend the day in the ocean with little to show for it, but on Tuesday, luck was with them. Hunter Head fought a 400-pound blue marlin for an hour and a half before they got it near enough to the boat to measure.

Hunter Head reels in a blue marlin during the Big Rock tournament. (Spectrum News 1/Jenna Rae Gaertner)

“Incredible. Emotional,” Head said. “I got my freaking marlin. First ever…. I feel like, you know, another check off the bucket list.”

It’s a team effort. Anglers cleared lines out of the way and supported the fishing rod, cheering head-on from the sidelines.

“When you're doing any sort of large fish like that, especially on a boat, it takes a whole team,” Head said.

This marlin was a catch and release since it wasn’t big enough to win the prize money.

“It takes forever for him to get that big,” Capt. Ben Wheat said. “So, yeah, we released it. And maybe next year it'll come back and say, hey.”

Anglers on the Never Enough caught this blue marlin and released it after it was measured. (Spectrum News 1/Jenna Rae Gaertner)

The captain is in charge of keeping the line taught and the boat in place when the anglers are reeling in a fish.

“I've been fishing these waters for a long time,” Wheat said. “I love it. And when you enjoy it, it's not work."

Wheat has to do a ton of research to figure out where the best conditions are to get a bite.

“We kind of look at everything — figure out where we're going to go, figure out where the bait is going to be,” Wheat said. “Wherever the bait is, that's where the big fish are going to be. And it worked out for us today. We had two wahoo, one pulled up at the boat. We had a blue marlin release. It was a fun day.”

Not many people get to have an experience like fishing in Big Rock. Boat owner Barry Hodowanic says it costs $40,000 to enter all seven categories at Big Rock — and that doesn’t include charter fees. His goal is to give the opportunity to more people.

Boats come back to shore after a long day of fishing. (Spectrum News 1/Jenna Rae Gaertner)

“I mean, if you're the average working person like we are,” Hodowanic said. “They're just excited to be able to go out and fish this because this is a big money millionaire’s game.”

He and his co-owner buy a basic entry into the tournament for $5,000 and sell shares every day to make it more affordable.

“I think it's just the sheer beauty of it,” Hodowanic said. “I mean, you can't get no closer to nature or God out here than this.”

He wants more people to be able to enjoy the beauty of the ocean and the excitement of offshore fishing.

For those unable to get on a boat this year, thousands visit Big Rock Landing to see the anglers weigh their fish each evening.

This year, a record 302 boats are participating in the tournament. With $7.5 million of prize money on the line, the crews will be fishing through the end of the tournament Saturday.