“This fish came into the spread behind the boat on the right side at approximately noon,” said Craig Dickerson, Haulin N Ballin crew fisherman. “It hit the plug (artificial bait) very hard. The first mate set the hook, instructed me to get in the chair, and handed off the fishing rod. This is when it becomes real. No help from the crew; no one can touch you – nothing.
“My mind is racing at this point because we had a good idea that this would be a qualifying fish,” he continued. “The captain gets the boat into position to shorten the distance between the angler and the fish, and begins to back down on the fish. After an hour of this tug-of-war, we get the fish to the boat, verify it’s a qualifier, boat the fish, and head toward the scales!”
Those words from the Pasadena resident relay the excitement of pulling in a tournament-winning 465.5-pound blue marlin during the 46th annual White Marlin Open in Ocean City, Maryland, in early August. The crew won more than $962,000 for the top prize out of 404 boats entered, and donated the meat to the Maryland Food Bank.
A marlin catch must be 114 inches to qualify for the White Marlin Open, and as soon as it jumped out of the water the first time, the crew knew they had something special. Dickerson said the adrenaline rush of pulling in a giant fish is something that has to be experienced.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever felt. It is also very stressful knowing that you could potentially be reeling in close to $1 million,” said Dickerson. “The boat owner asked me during the fight if I needed water or anything; my answer was, ‘Please give me water and silence.’ I didn’t ask for quiet to be rude but to ensure I could hear the verbal instructions from the captain and mates.”
The Haulin N Ballin boat pulled into the Ocean City Fishing Center five years ago with a rookie crew of “fun fishers” with little tournament or competitive fishing experience. After years of learning the boat, learning tactics and building a strong like-minded team, the crew now does well at top-tier competitions.
“The goal in sportfishing is and always has been to have a great time with our families and our friends and to show our kids things that most will never see,” said Dickerson. “Most people will never see the open ocean or marine life of all kinds in their environment; have the chance to catch and release a blue marlin, white marlin, or sailfish; or to harvest a tuna or mahi-mahi and enjoy the meal it provides.”
Dickerson said he and the crew are constantly trying new tactics and fishing with new people to improve their skills, but it’s the friendships that the crew has built with other fisherman that really makes this sport so special.
The fishing tournament season runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day out of Ocean City. The number of tournaments may fluctuate; however, the Haulin N Ballin men generally fish in five local tournaments, while the Haulin N Ballin women fish in two. Both crews participate in out-of-area tournaments, too. The men’s crew fish up and down the East Coat and West Coast of the United States, and Mexico, and spend several weeks a year in Costa Rica training. Members are from both North America and Central America.
Dickerson added that most people don’t realize the beauty and satisfaction that sportfishing can bring.
“The beauty of seeing, catching, releasing and preserving these billfish for future people to enjoy is amazing,” he added. “And, the satisfaction to do it with our families and friends is just awesome.”