The captain of Sensation, the fishing boat that lost out on over $3 million in earnings when tournament officials disqualified its 619.4-pound blue marlin due to “mutilation,” told CNN on Tuesday he believes they won the tournament fair and square.
“We worked hard, we felt like what we did was incredible with this fish, we knew we had won the tournament,” Capt. Greg McCoy said in a phone call. “I knew that fish was gonna destroy the other fish on the leaderboard weight-wise, and that’s exactly what it did. We followed all the rules. There was nothing nefarious or cheating or anything like that on our part.”
“We feel like it was taken away from us,” he added.
The captain’s comments come days after the controversy at the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament in North Carolina that reflects the big money world of competitive fishing.
Photos of the marlin show it had a significant chunk missing on its underside and near its tail. The tournament consulted with its rules and experts and ultimately disqualified the marlin due to “mutilation” caused by a shark or other marine animal, according to a statement.
“This decision is consistent with prior decisions made by the tournament in similar circumstances over the last 65 years,” the tournament added.
Sensation would have won $3.5 million for the catch, including over $700,000 for the first boat to catch a marlin weighing over 500 pounds. Instead, the crew of Sushi, which brought in a 484.5-pound blue marlin, won first place in the tournament – as well as prize money totaling $2,769,438.
McCoy said he believed the tournament was arbitrarily applying the rules differently from year to year.
“The tournament is about catching the biggest fish. We caught the biggest fish. I’m not a sour grapes person. I’m not a sore loser. We won the tournament. We caught the biggest fish,” he said. “As they say, put that in your pipe and smoke it.”
The owner, captain and crew of the Sensation hired Wheatly Law Group to represent them in their efforts and are on a “quest” to overturn the disqualification, attorney Stevenson L. Weeks told CNN. A protest of the results on behalf of the vessel was filed with the tournament by 11 a.m. on Sunday, he said.
“The tournament rules require this dispute be mediated and if it does not resolve in mediation, it will be submitted to arbitration pursuant to the North Carolina Revised Uniform Arbitration Act,” he said, referring to the dispute resolution section of the tournament’s official rules.
Amid the protest, McCoy, 56, spoke to CNN about the epic battle to reel in the fish and their deep disappointment afterward.
He said the boat hadn’t had much success until they hooked the massive marlin on Saturday in the last hours of the weeklong tournament. They knew it was a potential tournament winner, so they cleared the other lines and put the angler Bailey Gore in the fighting chair, he said.
The fight lasted hours as the hooked fish swam down over 1,000 feet as it tried to free itself. They then struggled “inch by inch, minute by minute” to reel it all the way back in.
“It took a long, long time, but we just kept at it, kept the faith,” he said. They were slowly able to bring her up, and crew member Dan “Scooter” Cox reached over, grabbed the marlin’s bill, and slid her right into the boat.
“There was a lot of embracing, a lot of emotion at that point. We knew we had the tournament won. We’ve seen quite a few big fish, and I knew this was well over what anybody had caught,” McCoy said. “It was pretty epic.”
They informed the tournament officials that they were headed back to the weighing station with the marlin, and word quickly spread. On the ride in, they passed “thousands and thousands” of people cheering them on from their boats, from the decks of bars and at the dock. McCoy said he felt like a rock star.
“I’ve fished this many, many times. It’s always been a dream of mine to win the Big Rock, and I was pretty sure we had it done. In my mind we did do it. We caught the biggest fish. That’s what the tournament is all about,” he said. “I kind of feel like everything afterwards is a technicality.”
At the weighing station, though, tournament judges noted the apparent large bites to the marlin and, after a delay, informed them that it violated its tournament rules.
“We went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. It’s a tough pill to swallow,” he said.
“We don’t know whether that fish was bit before, earlier in the year, the week, or on our hook. We don’t know that,” said McCoy.
If they had won, McCoy himself would have received 10% of the $3.5 million, a total he described as “life-changing.”
“I’m getting old. I need to think about my future. I’ve got young kids, an 18- and 20-year-old son, I could have set them up pretty good. I’m a hard-working blue collar guy. I pay my bills, and this money would have been put aside to go to my kids,” he said. “I feel like we earned it.”