WASHINGTON - Did something fishy go on at the White Marlin Open in Ocean City? It is the largest billfish tournament in the world and millions of dollars were up for grabs this year. Although the tournament has wrapped up, there are questions as to whether the winner lied about his big catch.
The White Marlin Open drew more than 300 boats to Ocean City during mid-August. On the second day of the 5-day tournament, Phillip Heasley reeled in a 76.5-pound white marlin, the only qualifying white marlin of the tournament.
Before collecting his $2.8 million prize, the Naples, Florida man had to pass a polygraph test. In court documents filed Friday, tournament officials said Heasley failed not one, but two polygraph tests along with everyone else on his boat. Officials said his answers appeared deceptive when he was asked whether he fished within the allotted time and reeled his catch in without assistance.
Brian Russell, who reeled in a smaller $15,000 prize-winning fish, said the rules are very clear.
“I guess if you wanted to try to skirt rules, you probably could, but there is a lie detector test you that have to pass if you catch a fish that is eligible for a prize over $50,000,” he said. “Everyone knows that. Everybody knows the rules.”
So instead of awarding Heasley his prize money, the tournament turned it over to the court and will now let a judge decide if he earned it fair and square.
“I hope for his sake it is a legitimate fish, but if they did bend the rules, I think it is good the organization is taking the steps that they are taking,” said Russell.
We reached out to Heasley and his attorney for comment, but they did not respond back as of Monday night. The angler did issue a statement last week saying he and his crew followed all rules and they will be cleared when all the facts are known.
If so, the prize money will be his. If not, several other winners including Russell will split the top prize.