Don’t cry for SENSATION, Big Rock Fans

Plenty of controversy abounds after SENSATION’s DQ from the 2023 Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament, including the boat’s owner declaring an official protest and securing the services of a law firm to take matters to court if his protest doesn’t result in overturning the DQ.

It won’t, nor should it. And it’s shameful that he’s even trying.

In case you’re not up to speed, here goes: The crew of the boat caught a big blue marlin. They brought it in to weigh. Tournament officials determined the marlin had been bitten by a shark during the fight. A rule in the tournament rule book, signed off on by the SENSATION and every other boat fishing the contest, states clearly in black and white that if a marlin is bitten by a shark or other sea creature during the fight, then it is disqualified.

So, pretty simple. Straight forward. No room for interpretation. Was it bitten by a shark or other sea creature during the fight? Yes. What does that mean, according to the rules of the tournament? That the fish is disqualified. Done deal. Sorry fellas, great fish, bad luck, thanks for playing and see you next year.

At this point, whether to entertain the crowd or to ensure SENSATION got a fair shake, the tournament weighed the fish anyway, then stated they’d release a decision about the winner in the morning. Many folks are saying this was a mistake, and that they shouldn’t have weighed it at all, since it was DQ’d anyway.

DQ announced next morning

But it was probably the right thing to do. During the night, the tournament consulted with fisheries biologists and the IGFA. Perhaps they just wanted to make sure that the two marks in question were bite marks, and not marks that were created by hoising the marlin into the boat. And this extra time would give SENSATION a chance to provide evidence that the marks occurred after the fight, and not during it. With several hours and all the evidence at hand, Big Rock released a statement Sunday morning confirming that SENSATION’s fish was disqualified.

So, even though all things pointed to a DQ Saturday night, Big Rock organizers decided to do a little more consulting, make sure they got it right, and again, give the boat’s crew a chance to provide evidence that those marks occurred after the fight, and not during. The crew offered no such evidence.

And in the end, the DQ was announced. 

Now, many Big Rock fans (fair weather ones at least), want to point to past winners, and how badly mutilated they were, and much more mutilated than SENSATION’s. What they’re failing to recognize, even when shown in black and white, spelled out clearly in the rule book, is that those mutilations occurred AFTER the fish were caught, tail-roped, and hoisted aboard, and during the ride in. In those cases the crew that caught the fish provided video evidence showing that the fish’s mutilation was a result of attempting to load it onto the boat, and of the wear and tear during the boat ride back to Morehead City.

Some folks say the 2019 winning fish even had shark bites on it. The win wasn’t protested, not even by the second-place boat of Rocky Hardison, who had more to lose (and lost it) than anyone when Top Dog brought in its massive fish.

Hardison’s words on the Top Dog’s fish, which video evidence shows was mutilated AFTER being boated, which doesn’t call for a DQ: 

“As for the comparison to Top Dog’s fish a few years ago, yes it was in worse condition but that damage was done after the fight was over. It knocked me to second place and cost me a lot of money. If I thought that it was any different, believe me, I would have protested it! Rules are rules and it’s pretty much black and white.” — Rocky Hardison

No sharks in the heart

It’s important to note that in the history of the Big Rock, more than once, captains have come in to hear the cheering of the crowds and the excitement of the emcee, only to calm that excitement quickly by stating, on their own, with no prompting from tournament officials, that no, we’re personally DQing our own fish, because if you look right here, you’ll see a fresh bite mark. Others have radioed from offshore, letting all know not to keep the scales open just for them, because their marlin was bitten during the fight. That’s integrity. That’s sportsmanship.

So what did the SENSATION’s boat owner have to say about the two obvious bite marks (that were confirmed as bite marks by multiple fisheries biologists)?

Something like “In our hearts, we never saw a shark.”

What? You never saw a shark? In your hearts? What does that even mean?

Okay, first, it doesn’t matter if you saw a shark, not with your eyes, not in your heart, not in your kidneys. Not seeing a shark (especially in your heart) doesn’t mean your fish wasn’t bitten by one.

And the odd statement sounds more like a cheating partner, trying to reconcile with the loved one they cheated on: “Baby, I mean, I did what I did. But in my heart, I wasn’t cheating.”

So, they didn’t see any sharks in their heart. Did they see the bite marks (in their heart or otherwise) once they got the fish onboard?

Ahhh, they thought it was just marks caused by them winching it onto the boat. Hmmm. Okay, wishful thinking. Let’s give ‘em the benefit of the doubt there. Otherwise, it would have been shameful for them to bring it in without alerting tournament officials to those marks.

6-hour fight wasn’t a 6-hour fight

Many Big Rock fans are stating the fish should count anyway, even if it was bitten by sharks, because the crew “fought it for 6 hours! And a fish can’t fight for 6 hours if those bites hurt it!”

Couple of problems here. First, who is to say a fish that fought for 6 hours couldn’t have fought for 8, or even broken free, had it not been bitten by a shark? But most importantly, those fans’ visions of the marlin running, jumping, diving deep, going from one side of the boat to the next, leaping high above the waves within sight of the boat, colors vibrant, muscles bulging, tail thrashing, the crew running about on the deck shouting words of encouragement, the angler on the rod allowing the fish to run, then making up line, letting it run again, gaining line back…well, this epic 6-hour battle never took place.


Turns out, according to interviews with the captain and crew members, the fish died and sank to the bottom in the first 45 minutes of the fight. The next 5+ hours, they cranked the fish straight up, trying to get help from the current when they could, carefully cranking while not straining their line too much, lest it break. 

And finally, after turning the reel handle for 5+ hours, the 600 pounds of dead weight was there at hand, ready to load.

In the face of these words, offered by the captain and crew themselves, the fair weather Big Rock fans say rubbish.

Emotional argument

“If the fish was dead, they could back right up to it and load it!” said one social media commenter. Oh boy, what a gem. Others said similar things “Dead on the seafloor? If so, it wouldn’t have taken more than 10 minutes to reel it right in.”

Well, some folks just don’t understand the dynamics of fishing for big gamefish, using line that is rated at much lower poundage than many of the fish you’ll catch, and how using the drag and the bend of the rod comes into play to tire the fish. And that tightening the drag means you can reel it right in quick, well, unless whatever is on your line weighs more than your line is rated for, in which case your line will simply pop.

Well, those folks just don’t know any better. And don’t know any better than to make comments on things they have no clue about. Plenty of folks like that in this world. Oh well, let ‘em speak. Just don’t take it too seriously or try too hard to argue with them. They just don’t get it and never will. Their whole argument is built on emotion anyway.

“Fish get bit by sharks all the time!” some argue. I don’t know how often big marlin get bit by sharks. Honestly, I don’t believe ones that grow to 600 pounds get bit by sharks on the regular, but I’m no expert at that. But it doesn’t matter. The rule book says plain and simply, if a marlin is bitten by a shark during the fight, it’s DQ’ed.

“But they were small bite marks, probably didn’t impact the marlin,” some are saying. That’s a crock, but even if it’s not, the rule book makes no allowances for how big a shark bite is. It states that if it’s bitten during the fight, DQ. Period.

“But this isn’t an IGFA tournament!” others say. It doesn’t matter. They reference the IGFA rule on shark bites in the tournament rules. Big Rock doesn’t have to follow every IGFA rule if they don’t want to. They can adopt certain rules from other organizations all they want, as long as they spell it out in their rule book. And they do. 

Shame on boat owner

Now, here’s the thing. For all those fair weather Big Rock fans, oh well, most just don’t understand the rules. Plenty of others see the rules but just don’t like that particular rule. Or they misunderstand the “mutilation” rule and refuse to acknowledge the part of the rule about WHEN the mutilation happens. Others want to argue the definition of the word. Doesn’t matter. The rules say if it happens DURING the fight, it’s a DQ.

But what is shameful, is a boat owner that knows the rules, and one who agreed to participate in the 2023 Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament, signing off on the rule book that all other boats signed off on, then turning around and preparing to sue the tournament after their fish was DQ’ed based on those very rules he signed off on. This freezes all prize money for the other competitors. Puts everything in limbo.

Chances are, he doesn’t believe all that stuff the fair weather fans believe. Chances are, he’s just playing on their emotions, hoping to garner enough support that the Big Rock will see fit to overturn a longstanding rule that his team signed off on before the tournament even began, or at least offer a settlement.

And that is shameful. Shameful to him. Shameful to his boat. Shameful to his team. Shameful to his sponsors.


UPDATE: After all this, the protest has been dropped as of July 11, with SENSATION’s owner admitting that the tournament got it right all along.