MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. (WNCT) — People are gathering from across the country at the Morehead City waterfront for a full week of competition.

This weekend, the 24th annual Keli Wagner Lady Angler (KWLA) fishing tournament kicked off with activities on Saturday and Sunday. On Monday, Morehead City prepares for a busy week ahead for the 63rd annual Big Rock Blue Marlin tournament.

CLICK HERE for the Keli Wagner Lady Angler Facebook

Now through next weekend, fishermen and women will head offshore in their boats hoping to catch the largest, heaviest fish they can find.

Saturday opened the weeklong event with the ladies’ tournament. This year, 132 boats were registered to compete. 41 of them ventured out to sea on Saturday and the remaining 91 went out on Sunday.

“It was questionable weather either day, and I think that they were kind of split deciding which days to go out,” said Crystal Hesmer, executive director of the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament. “They still had a really good field of boats for the weather in consideration for the tournament.”

CLICK HERE for the 63rd annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament website

The women choose one day out of the weekend to fish, hoping to cash in a portion of this year’s $134,000 prize.

“It’s fantastic to see all of the ladies turn out and really support that tournament like they have,” said Hesmer.  

On Monday, the 63rd annual Big Rock Blue Marlin tournament officially begins. As of Sunday, more than 200 boats are signed up to compete. Similar to the women, the men are hoping to cash in some prize money as well.

“Last year we were able to exceed our goal of a purse of $3,335,000. It was the biggest purse we have ever had. So, we will see what we have for 2021,” Hesmer said.

The tournament reels in spectators from around the country, like Dan DelMonte and William Koller. The two made the trip down from New Jersey to enjoy the event.

“We come every year. This is why we come down here,” said DelMonte. “It’s great atmosphere, great vibes with people just talking, fishing and waiting for some people to come weigh in.”

While all eyes are on the fish this week, the tournament is focusing on a larger goal- the chance to give back to the community.

“Big Rock is vital to our community. It’s not only what we give back as far as the economic impact, certainly our hotels, motels and restaurants, but our charities and what we do for the community as a whole,” said Hesmer.

In 2020 the tournament donated more than $500,000 to charity. They are hoping to exceed that goal this year.



Fishing Days & Time

  • Participants are eligible to fish four out of the six days of the tournament. No single boat can fish more than four total days. Dates and times include:
    • Monday, June 14, 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
    • Tuesday, June 15, 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
    • Wednesday, June 16, 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
    • Thursday, June 17, 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
    • Friday, June 18, 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
    • Saturday, June 19, 8:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
  • No lines or teasers are permitted in the water before official fishing hours each day

What to Catch

  • Bill Fish
    • Blue Marlin
      • To be eligible for prize money, a blue marlin must weigh at least 400 lbs. or measure at least 110 inches
      • In the event of a tie by weight, the marlin with the largest total measurement of girth plus length shall be declared the winner
      • 400 lb. Penalty: Boats will be penalized four hundred pounds from the weight of the largest blue marlin weighed in that boat throughout the week if the blue marlin does not meet the necessary length and/or weight requirements
    • White Marlin (for release only)
    • Sailfish (for release only)
    • Hatchet Marlin (for release only)
    • Spearfish (for release only)
  • Gamefish
    • Yellow-fin tuna
    • Dolphin
    • Wahoo
    • *Winning game fish will be determined by weight
    • *Blue marlin take priority over gamefish at the weigh station

Release Points

  • Cash prizes will be awarded to the boats that score the most number of points first. In order to qualify as a release, the fish must remain in the water.
  • 125 release points will be awarded for all billfish, including blue marlin, white marlin, sailfish, hatchet marlin and spearfish
  • 400 release points will be awarded for teams that provide video or photo evidence of the billfish hooked up to the Rules Committee

KWLA vs. Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament

  • KWLA tournament is an “all-release tournament”. No billfish (including blue marlin) shall be boated.
  • KWLA participants may chose one day to fish, either Saturday, June 12 or Sunday, June 13. No team is permitted to fish both days.
  • Same gamefish rules apply for both tournaments


KWLA Leaderboard

(Last updated 6:45 p.m. Sunday)