How to catch a $1 million fish — or maybe just watch. Your guide to Big Rock tourney.

For most of the Triangle, a good day fishing means pulling a 5-pound bass out of Jordan Lake or a fat catfish from the Neuse River.

But three hours to the southeast, anglers at the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament are vying for billfish so big that anything under 400 pounds goes back in the ocean.

The 66th annual tournament draws thousands of gawkers and generates a year’s worth of fish stories, but remains unknown to much of the Triangle’s freshly arrived population.

Here’s our Q-and-A guide to the state’s premier fishing contest.

Can I fish?

Only if you have a thick wallet and a very large boat. The entry-level fee costs $2,500, and the smallest yachts competing top 30 feet long. Most of the anglers chase marlin aboard craft larger than 60 feet, and basketball billionaire Michael Jordan is reportedly sporting a new 82-footer.

Can I watch?

Absolutely. Big Rock Landing in downtown Morehead City drew thousands of spectators on opening day Monday, when one crew won $1.7 million for catching the first blue marlin heavier than 500 pounds.

Even on Wednesday, a slower fishing day without any marlin, hundreds crowded around to watch the wahoo and dolphin anglers brought for the weigh-in.

Follow the signs to 710 Evans St. and you’ll find plenty of tackle, suds and fish stories. On Wednesday, spectators had come from as far as Ireland to the east and San Diego to the west.

Which fish are they catching?

Blue marlin are everybody’s goal, but prizes also go for tuna, wahoo and dolphin — the fish kind, not the mammal.

Battle King poses with a 6-pound dolphin fish during a weigh-in on Wednesday, June 12, 2024 at Big Rock Landing in Morehead City during the 66th Annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament.
Battle King poses with a 6-pound dolphin fish during a weigh-in on Wednesday, June 12, 2024 at Big Rock Landing in Morehead City during the 66th Annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament.

What’s the big deal?

In its 66th year, the Big Rock qualifies as the biggest blue marlin tournament in the world. It draws big-time anglers from all over the nation, making a giant economic impact on NC’s Crystal Coast. This year drew a record 302 boats and offered a record $7.5 million purse.

The Big Rock foundation generates a sizable amount for charity: $1.6 million in 2023 alone. Lindsay Parker, whose grandfather helped start the tournament in 1957, noted the $50,000 that built the outdoor learning center at Beaufort Elementary.

Is this the world’s biggest fishing tournament?

No, the White Marlin Open in Ocean City, Maryland, is larger. Last year, it drew 400 boats angling for a purse worth more than $10 million.

How’d this all start?

In the 1950s, Morehead City offered little in the way of sport fishing, and tales of blue marlin off the coast were considered barroom folklore. Nobody took their boats far out of sight of the coastline.

But sailors stopping over on freighters reported marlin jumping far off the coast, and this inspired the first tournament challenge. Whoever could land one of these giant billfish would win a Radio Flyer wagon full of silver dollars.

Why is it called Big Rock?

The blue marlin anglers pursue swim the Gulf Stream a few hours offshore. The “big rock” consists of a stretch several hundred feet deep with a hard bottom marked by ledges and plateaus where the fish all feed. A blue marlin caught here will still take several hours to weigh on the dock because of the journey back.

What if I don’t feel like driving to Morehead City?

The Big Rock is popular enough that its streams live on VHF radio, while the leaders and catches are documented on the tournament’s app and multiple social media feeds. Live updates spool out on the website. (