Many people join fishing tournaments for fun, but when it comes to the top three cash-payouts on the Mid-Atlantic coast, tournament fishing reaches a new high level of competition. And it’s no wonder, when you consider just how much money is at stake. The biggest cash pay-out for a single fish caught this year hit an amazing 1.4 million dollars – and figures like that are going to bring the professionals into town.

WMO winning white marlin

This 72 pound fish was worth a total of about 1.4 million dollars. Photo courtesy of the White Marlin Open.

That lottery-sized win came during the White Marlin Open (WMO), held the first week of August in Ocean City, MD. It was awarded to William Woody on the Blew Bayou, for catching a 72-pound white marlin. Over 250 boats participated for cash prizes totaling an estimated 2.3 million dollars, with the next-biggest take (about $350,000) going to Norman Pulliam on the Right Hook, for catching a 238-pound bigeye tuna.

The next biggest payday came at the Mid-Atlantic $500,000, held out of Cape May NJ with additional weigh stations in Ocean City. This tournament, with total prize money reaching an estimated 1.6 million dollars, attracted about half as many boats as the WMO making it the best pay-out per number of boats entered. The top take went to the Reelentless for a 79 pound white marlin. The fish was worth $94,400 for the regular prize—but brought in well over a half-million dollars in Calcutta (side-betting) money.

In the tuna category, 2012 will go down as one of the best years ever thanks to an epic bigeye bite at the canyons. The largest caught was a 233-pounder taken by the Reel Chaos; it was worth $70,800 in prize money and another $76,000 and change in Calcutta winnings.

At the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament held off the Crystal Coast of North Carolina in early June, Todd Baxley aboard the Flybuoy caught a 499 pound blue marlin that earned him first place and a cool half-mil. If the fish had been seven-tenths of a pound heavier (to break the 500 pound mark), another $246,500 would have been added to their winnings. Talk about a close shave – a few extra scales and a bit more slime, and that fish would have been worth a quarter of a million dollars more.

With tournament winnings like these, it’s no wonder boats follow the tournament trail up and down the coast. Your odds of winning are better than they are in Vegas, and the jackpots are life-changing. And when if comes to changing lives, fishing tournaments can be beneficial in other ways. There’s a number of competitive fishing events held every year which benefit charities, as well as lining the pocket of the victors. So be it for fun, profit, or charity, it’s time to get your game on—tournament fishing has gone big-time.

-Lenny Rudow