Travis Stephenson can count among his life’s major thrills winning the 1993 NCAA basketball championship as part of Dean Smith’s Tar Heels. Now he can add winning the 53rd annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament in Morehead City, NC to that list. And while, Stephenson rode the pine during his Tar Heels' Big Dance, he was the star this time around.
Not bad for a guy who had never caught a blue marlin prior to entering the event.
On June 13, on the first day of six days of fishing, the Angier, NC resident reeled in a 652.8-pound marlin that ended up reigning over the leaderboard for the rest of the week. The catch claimed first place and $524,375 for the crew of the Double B and its captain, Kenny Sexton of Manteo.
"It was an explosion of emotions," Sexton said. "We were arguing and cheering [throughout the catch]."
At first, the crew didn't realize exactly how big the hooked marlin was.
"It had some big shoulders; we could tell it was a pretty nice fish," said Stephenson, who played with George Lynch, Henrik Rodl, Eric Montross, Kevin Salvadori, Donald Williams and Dante Calabria. "Then it rolled, and everyone gasped collectively. It was insane... We were fortunate to put that on the boat."
This year's tournament drew 135 boats aiming to win a portion of the $1.5 million purse.
The event featured releases of 27 blue marlin, 69 white marlin and five sailfish.
Stephenson said he could only hope that his blue marlin catch would hold up. The vice president of retail sales for a Smithfield air filter company, he had to spend the rest of the week away from Morehead City for work. He received text updates from the crew during the week, then met up with them on Saturday to watch the final day.
"We had lots of confidence it would hold up, but we knew someone could always bring in something bigger."
Nobody did, and Stephenson and his crew took home the big money.