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A Record Year

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Even a bad transmission couldn't keep this team from taking first place.

Sometimes a picture is worth a million dollars. Eight-year-old Emily Hudgens drew an image of a big white marlin on some paper and gave it to her daddy, Capt. Justin Hudgens, as he was preparing to run the 77-foot Hatteras, Orion, in this year's $2-million-plus White Marlin Open (WMO) tournament. Emily wanted give her father a good-luck charm, and before this Ocean City, Maryland-based event concluded, the picture becamejust that.

On the second day of this early-August competition, which drew 300 boats and top billfish crews from around the country, Hudgens piloted Orion out of Ocean City inlet and was met with a flat-calm Atlantic. When the team arrived in Baltimore Canyon, about 60 miles offshore, and around an hour before it was time for lines-in, Hudgens felt that the area looked fishy. Pilot whales and skipjack tuna were jumping and his fishfinder showed good-size pods of squid in the middle depths. The captain decided that this was the place to start hunting for white marlin. It would soon become a day for the history books.

Around 9:30 a.m., an hour after fishing had started, the team spotted a white marlin under the "dredge," which is a group of fish (mullet or ballyhoo) wired and trolled on a multi-arm, umbrella-shape rig near the transom of the boat.

The billfish swam away from the dredge, and swiftly dropped back to a ballyhoo bait being pulled from an outrigger. The pelagic predator aggressively attacked the swimming 'hoo, and the battle was on.

Unfortunately there was a problem: One of Orion's marine gears was stuck in forward. The crew would have to fight this feisty fish without being able to back down and chase it.

"Luckily, we had him on the 30," recalls Hudgens referring to the reel's weight class, adding, "[Otherwise], he might've spooled us." The battle started off routinely-until the massive white jumped and showed the anglers his true size.

"Once we saw that first jump, we started praying," Hudgens says, noting that prayers continued for an hour as the battle with what would turn out to be the team's biggest white marlin ever raged on.

Because the leader was chafing badly, the nearly-million-dollar fish almost won his freedom on several occasions. Hudgens credits his crew and expert angling by crewmember Sean Healey with keeping the marlin within striking distance.

By about 10:30 a.m., the massive white had been boated and the crew knew they had a contender. Since they hadn't been sure exactly how much of a contender the fish would be, they were elated to discover that their white marlin weighed in at more than 93 pounds, making it the largest one brought to the scales at this tournament in more than 29 years and the second-largest in the tournament's 37-year history. It turned out to be a year for big billfish off Ocean City, as even the third-place fish came in at 84 pounds, a size that would've won most of the previous years' tournaments.

For the Orion crew's effort, the team earned $903,442 and a place in local fishing lore. To top it all off, a day after this white marlin was brought to the scales, the team onboard the Viking No Problem weighed in a winning 1,062-pound blue marlin that measured out to more than 11'6" (forklength) and became a state- and tournament-record fish in that division. (It was almost too big to fit on the tournament's scale.)

No word as to whether the captain of that vessel had a picture of a big fish in his pocket, too.

This article originally appeared in the November 2009 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.