The 2023 White Marlin Open is just a few weeks away, and organizers are preparing for another record year. Founded by Jim Motsko in 1974, the White Marlin Open has evolved but stayed true to its mission of world-class fishing over its 50-year history.
The tournament will run from August 7 through 11, and hundreds of boats from across the globe will arrive in Ocean City for a chance to hook record-breaking white and blue marlin, tuna, wahoo, and swordfish. With prizes totaling $9.2 million in 2021 and $8.4 million last year, the fish caught in this tournament are truly life-changing. Over its storied history, the tournament has awarded more than $90 million.
Two years ago, a new federal regulations on sharks, specifically a retention limit on mako sharks, the tournament decided to eliminate its shark category. Instead, there will be a swordfish category, as interest in swordfishing soars. And ironically, no swordfish were caught and boated in the 2022 tournament.
Additional new categories include a heaviest swordfish winner-take-all added entry level and a daily billfish points added entry level for small boats.
Fishing time continues to be extended by 30 minutes, kicking off daily at 8 a.m. rather than at 8:30 a.m.
How Does the Tournament Work?
For those unfamiliar with the contest’s format, there are a few basic rules. Boaters can pick three out of the five tournament days to go fishing with as many anglers as they would like to have. An entry fee of $1,500 earns registrants a spot in the tournament and qualifies them for $50,000 in guaranteed prize money. Numerous added entry levels are available depending on anglers’ budgets. Fishing begins early in the day at 8 a.m. and continues until 3:30 p.m.
Following the conclusion of fishing hours, the main daily event revered by White Marlin Open fans begins. Weigh-ins at Harbour Island, located at 14th Street and the bay, attract thousands of people each day of the tournament from 4:00 p.m. to 9:15 p.m. Although the weigh-ins are free to spectators, there are millions of dollars on the line for anglers. For several hours, fans anxiously watch as the day’s best catches are weighed on the scale and bring in massive fortunes for anglers. Two large screens will be set up high above the crowds to provide a closer view of the weigh-ins for those who are not able to directly see the scale. Organizers recommend that people arrive early to secure the best spots at Harbour Island.
If packing in at Harbour Island does not sound like a good fit, the White Marlin Open staff hears you and will continue its full-fledged Marlin Fest downtown. An expansion of the additional location added in 2020, Marlin Fest is an idea that organizers floated around for years. As the idea was kicked into gear, Marlin Fest was a hue success and now an additional way to enjoy and celebrate the White Marlin Open.
For years, Marlin Fest ran at the 3rd Street ballpark, but renovations and construction forced the event to shift to the Ocean City Inlet. And a great move it was!
Families can bring chairs and blankets to the Inlet to watch the tournament free of charge daily from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Another massive screen will live stream the tournament and weigh-ins as they occur to keep festival attendees in the loop. The event will include daily live music, food and beverage vendors, beach tennis, cornhole tournaments, and more activities for kids. Local author, Katherine Ruskey, will also be there signing her novel, Marlin Week, a fictional novel based on the WMO. Along with the perfect view, festival goers will enjoy a massive beach party to celebrate the tournament.
As always, the Town of Ocean City will have its beach bus service in operation, taking people to both Harbour Island and the Inlet. Parking is also available in several municipal lots in a small radius from the Inlet. These include the 5th Street Municipal Parking Lot and the 3rd Street City Hall lot (after 5:00 p.m.). Churches downtown also typically open up their spaces to White Marlin Open attendees.
Anyone unable to attend either of the in-person festivities can still enjoy the tournament online by watching the MarlinCam, which has previously attracted 350,000 viewers around the world.
Plus, there will be an awards ceremony from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on August 12 at the Ocean City Convention Center.
The White Marlin Open also typically grants the chance to catch a glimpse at the world-famous basketball legend Michael Jordan. The megastar made appearances with his boat “Catch 23” at the past three tournaments, and while his boat has yet to register, there is always a chance that Jordan will return to Ocean City.
In 50 years of the tournament, the White Marlin Open has grown exponentially. Starting with just 57 boats and one passionate offshore fisherman, the rest is history.
“My dad started this tournament because he loves fishing. He actually worked as a mate on the pier each summer to put himself through college at the University of Maryland,” said Rowan. “In the summer of 1974, he was tired of wearing a suit for his banking job and decided to start what would become the world’s largest and richest billfish tournament. Not a lot of fishing tournaments get crowds of thousands that stand around to watch weigh-ins, and we are proud that we have created something so unique.”
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Unable to attend this year? The White Marlin Open has already released dates for its future tournaments. Future dates are August 5-9, 2024, and August 4-8, 2025.