Ocean City Tuna Tournament marks 30th anniversary

There are several new rules and added entry-level calcuttas in place for the 30th annual Ocean City (Md.) Tuna Tournament, taking place July 14-16.

Tournament organizers met with a committee of past participants over the winter to brainstorm and discuss the competition, and some adjustments were made for the 2017 event.

This year, anglers can pass the rod while fighting a fish, with the exception of junior and lady anglers competing for those awards.

“We had a lot of requests for that,” said Tournament Director Jennifer Blunt.

If an angler is struggling to reel in a big tuna, another can take over to help bring the fish to the boat.

Paid captains and mates can’t be anglers. They can only hook a fish and hand the rod off to someone else.

Only one big-eye tuna can be weighed per boat each day. That fish can be added to stringer weight.

Weigh-in times on Friday, July 14, and Saturday, July 15, have been extended one hour and will now end at 8:30 p.m. Boats most reach the junction buoy by 8 p.m. Crews will then have 30 minutes to get their fish to the Ocean City Fishing Center scale in West Ocean City, Md. Sunday’s times will remain the same, with the scale closing at 7 p.m.

Organizers have also changed the boat-size added levels. They are: boats 35 feet or less, 36-51 feet, and 52 feet or larger.

To increase the chance for more participants to win money, organizers added two new “On the Board Reward” levels, as well as a largest-bluefin tuna calcutta.

“Tuna fishing is good. We’re seeing some bluefin, wahoo, dolphin,” Blunt said early this week. “We’ve seen a few big-eyes. They’re not quite here yet. I think we’ll see a lot of yellowfin [during the tournament]. Yellowfin is what we’re mostly seeing right now.”

Final registration for the tourney was set to take place Thursday, July 13, from 3-7 p.m. at the Fishing Center in West Ocean City. A captains’ meeting was to follow. For those who missed early registration, the cost is $1,000 per boat (with a maximum of six anglers).

Altogether, there are 17 added entry-level calcuttas for the 2017 competition. The cost to enter them ranges from $100 to $5,000. Teams may sign up for one or all of the added entry-level categories, which, if they place on the top of the leaderboard, could substantially increase the amount of prize money they receive.

Added entries:

• Level A — $250 — Single Largest Tuna — Daily

• Level B — $250 — Heaviest Stringer — Daily

• Level C — $500 — Winner takes all

• Level D — $500 — Boats 35’ & Under — Winner takes all

• Level E — $750 — Boats 36-51’ — Winner takes all

• Level F — $1,000 — Boats 52’ & Up — Winner takes all

• Level G — $2,500 — Squidnation Heaviest Stringer Jackpot — Winner takes all

• Level H — $5,000 — Yeti Pro Jackpot Single Largest Tuna — Winner takes all

• Level I — $500 — 50/30/20 split

• Level J — $1,000 — 50/30/20 split

• Level K — $2,500 — 50/30/20 split

• Level L — $300 — Single Largest Dolphin

• Level M — $200 — Single Largest Wahoo

• Level N — $500 — Single Largest Bluefin Tuna

• Level O — $500 — On the Board Reward “A”

• Level P — $1,500 — On the Board Reward “B”

• Level Q — $200 — Charity Donation — 50/50 split. Fifty percent will go to the singles largest tuna and 50 percent to a selected charity. In 2016, the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company was the beneficiary, and the organization received $3,150. The fire department will also be the recipient for 2017.

Levels C, D, E, F, I, J and K are split between Single Largest and Heaviest Stringer.

Levels D, E, F, I, J and K can only win in one category, Single Largest or Heaviest Stringer, not both.

The cost to go across-the-board with the $1,000 entry fee for boats 52 feet or larger is $17,700; $17,450 for boats 36-51 feet; and $17,200 for boats 35 feet or smaller.

The Level H Pro Tuna Jackpot Winner Takes All costs $5,000 to enter, but it pays off for the angler with the heaviest single tuna, as long as he or she signs up for the calcutta. In 2016, 39 of the tournament’s 78 boats entered the Calcutta, and the pot itself totaled $175,500.

Joe Czajkowski landed the largest tuna of the 2016 competition, a 156-pound big-eye. Czajkowski and his Fish Tricks teammates were awarded $216,512 for first place in the Single Largest Tuna Division — $175,500 of that came from Level H.

Last year, with 78 boats, $625,500 was awarded to tournament winners.

“The past few years, we’ve had less than 100 boats, but the money is still there,” Blunt said. “A lot of boats go across the board.”

For 2017, tournament fishing is permitted Friday through Sunday, July 14-16. Anglers will fish two of the three days. Boats can leave either the Ocean City or Indian River inlets. Catches will be weighed at the Ocean City Fishing Center from 4 to 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, July 14-15, this year, and until 7 p.m. Sunday, July 16.

There is no cost to watch the weigh-ins, which are open to the public.

Prize money will be awarded to the first-, second- and third-heaviest single tuna and the largest total catch weight.

Each boat may weigh up to five fish per day to compete for a two-day total-pound catch.

There is a 30-pound minimum weight requirement for all eligible tournament tuna (yellowfin, bluefin and big-eye).

Prizes will be awarded for first, second and third places in the Park Place Jewelers Ladies Division. A $1,500 award will be presented to the female angler who catches the largest tuna. Prizes of $1,000 and $500 will be distributed to second and third place, respectively.

A Junior Angler division is available for those 16 or younger. The winner will receive $1,000. Cash prizes of $500 and $250 will be presented to junior anglers who land the second- and third-heaviest fish.

There will also be prize money of $2,500, $1,000 and $500 for the first-, second- and third-largest dolphin.

Since several wahoo have been caught during the tournament over the years, organizers added a division for the fish last year, and it was well received. Of the 78 tournament boats, 56 entered the wahoo calcutta in 2016. The calcutta is also available this year.

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the tournament, there will be a party on Saturday night, July 15, under a tent at the Fishing Center from 7 to 10 p.m.

The event is open to the public and free to attend. Drink specials will be offered, and Hot Tub Limo band will perform. There will be free parking that evening and during tournament weigh-ins in the West Ocean City Park & Ride. Free shuttles to and from the Fishing Center and Park & Ride will be available during weigh-ins.

For more information about the Tuna Tournament, call (410) 213-1121 or visit www.octunatournament.com.