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50th Anniversary of The White Marlin Open in Ocean City, MD Brings a $10 Million Purse

Picture it! 1974. Jim Motsko comes up with an off the wall idea- on his honeymoon!- about a sport fishing tournament hosted right here in Ocean City, Maryland. We need a buy in? $1,000? That’ll work. How many boats do we have? 57. That’ll do. How much can fishermen win in prize money? Top prize $5,000? Let’s do it.

Picture it! 2023- Yes- That’s 50 years later! How many boats do we have? 408. How many anglers? 3,500. How much do we have in prize money? $10 million. Head nods.

That First Full Week of August Feeling

white marlin open car

The town literally feels like it’s vibrating with excitement. Traffic on the Route 50 Bridge is building with locals and tourists coming from near and far to see what is absolutely the most talked about week of summer. It’s Marlin Week! Bill fish are reported to be hot at the canyons and first mates and captains rig their lines, prep their bait, and polish up their gorgeous Viking boats ready to take the leaderboard.

But no one knows the excitement of this week more than The Motsko Family. 50 years ago, Jim Motsko changed the bill fishing scene by creating the largest and richest bill fishing tournament in the world!

The White Marlin Open- Then and Now

From 1974 to 2023, the White Marlin Open has had an incredible 50 year run. It’s small start with only 57 boats to over 400 boats last year in 2022, it’s projected an even larger number due to the incredible milestone year.

When asked how the tournament has expanded throughout the years, Sasha Motsko replied, “just about everything!” From the number of boats to the expansion of Marin Fest, Motsko says it’s been exciting growing up to see it. “This year has been the most exciting year of all. The tournament is older than I am. And it’s been incredible to be a part of something so big.”

Another change in the tournament from over the years has been the expansion of the coast. In the beginning, anglers were only allowed to drive out of the Ocean City, Maryland inlet. However, now in 2023, boats can come from as far north as Barnegat, New Jersey and as far south as Rudee Inlet, Virginia Beach.

 “Off Season” Work

Jennifer Rutter Malcolm – WMO boats heading towards the inlet for check-in, view from Marlin Fest

Despite what many think, putting on a memorable event like the White Marlin Open is a year round job. With one week of fishing celebrations comes months of prep work before and after. Between the marketing and promoting Jim Motsko’s daughters, Sasha and Madelyne, also help delegate the online sales portion. Christmas time is a prime time for the White Marlin Open as well as their holiday sale opens.

The weeks leading up to the tournament are extremely busy as you can imagine. Between registering boats, collecting buy ins, and coordinating a live steam on their homepage, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Managing the extended videography work with the addition of multiple drones this year has been a task as well.

A Golden Prize for a Golden Anniversary

white marlin open 2023
A golden anniversary deserves a golden celebration!

This golden anniversary is not going unnoticed for sure. This year’s pay out will be a record $10 million, surpassing 2022 by well over a million dollars. And a special $50,000 take all category has been added to commemorate the 50th anniversary. This prize will go to the angler who catches the heaviest white marlin. Good luck!

 Fun Facts You Didn’t Know About The White Marlin Open

Marlin Week Book
Local author Katherine Ruskey’s fiction novel based on The White Marlin Open.

Did you know that there is no minimal age to fish. One year a 14 year old boy won! Other years, fishermen who had never caught a bill fish won. It’s really anyone’s game.

The White Marlin Open is so popular that even celebrities come from far and wide to fish. Most people have seen that the NBA star, Michael Jordan come on his 80’ Viking. Another year Food Network celebrity chef, Emeril Lagasee participated and other years some country music celebrities. Yee-Haw!

Speaking of far and wide, when asked “how far has someone traveled to participate in the open,” Sasha Motsko replied, “All over the world! It’s the biggest tournament in the world. But I do remember a group of three fishermen that traveled all the way from Ireland to come and fish.” This gives a whole other meaning to their Irish “fish and chips.”

Not only is the open popular in the fishing community, but it’s also popular in the reading community as well. Local author, Katherine Ruskey, wrote a fiction beach novel called Marlin Week, based on three captains that fish in the tournament. It’s only 7 chapters long, one chapter for each day of the tournament beginning on Sunday at the captain’s meeting.

Marlin Fest at Ocean City’s Inlet

There are lots of vendors at Marlin Fest 2023 in the Inlet Parking lot.

Marlin Fest, the free celebratory festival located at the infamous Ocean City Inlet will continue again this year. However with it’s growing popularity, Marlin Fest has expanded. Hours are now extended from 11a-9:15pm. Several more vendors have been added for patrons’ enjoyment from food and drink, to jewelry and books. Live music will also be played throughout the event as well.

Marlin Fest is also very family friendly. There will be a jumbotron set up streaming the live weigh ins from Harbour Island Marina. Visitors can bring chairs and sand toys to set up while enjoying a relaxing evening watching the fishing boats come in from their long days at sea. In addition to plenty of space, there are areas for cornhole and sand tennis set up as well. There is definitely something for everyone at Marlin Fest.

Don’t miss out on any of the fun this year. If you can’t make it in person, you can watch the live stream of the White Marlin Open on their website. And to all fishing in this year’s 50th Golden Anniversary White Marlin Open- Tight Lines!

Katie Ruskey
Katie Ruskeyhttp://kruskeyauthor.com
Katie Ruskey is a local author, splitting her time between Baltimore and Ocean City. Her debut fiction novel, Marlin Week, was released in August 2022 based on three captains that fish in the infamous White Marlin Open. Her first children's book, The A B Seas of Ocean City, Maryland takes young readers on a tour of OC. For more information on how to purchase her books, visit her website www.kruskeyauthor.com or follow her on IG/FB at Katherine Ruskey Author.

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