CAPE MAY - A decent-size crowd watched as Chris Booth loudly proclaimed the weight of the heaviest of three white marlin for all to hear early Friday night, inspiring a round of cheers and applause.
"72!" he yelled when Randy Birdsell, who was in Booth's usual spot on the hoist at the weigh station for the Mid-Atlantic $500,000 tournament, hung the white marlin and got the reading on the scale at Canyon Club Resort Marina.
The celebration was short-lived, though. Some in the crowd realized and word quickly spread that the 72-pound fish brought to the dock by the boat Flying Label registered to Dean Shacklett of Blue Bell, Pa., was a nice catch but out of the money in fourth place at the time.
The buzz quieted, but only until the next contender was hoisted up to be weighed in at a tournament whose total purse is $1.6 million.
Booth has been the weighmaster for the Mid-Atlantic $500,000, which began Monday and ended Friday, since it started 21 years ago. This year he was wearing a boot that prevented him from climbing to his familiar perch on the Canyon Club scales when the boats backed down to the dock to weigh their fish.
Not a lot of fish were brought back to the Canyon Club early Friday night, but when they got weighed, measured and photographed, he was still in charge. There have been, however, a decent number of white and blue marlin release flags flying from the sportfishing craft coming back to Cape May this year. The tournament also has a satellite weigh station in Ocean City, Md.
But during the first hour or so of that final weigh-in session at Canyon Club, the 48-year-old Cape May Court House resident had only three white marlin to certify.
The slow pace gave Booth a chance to talk about the tournament.
First, he said, the bigeye tuna this year are "phenomenal." He said the impressive bigeye catches were maybe the best since the 1980s. He said the Mid-Atlantic has a loyal following with many boats coming back year after year, and the community around Cape May gets involved.
Booth said he is not "good at this" when asked a few questions, but he got the message across.
His crew of assistants sat around for a while until Viking 70 called in that it was coming in to weigh a white marlin. Six people got going and hauled the fish off the boat onto the dock and then to the scales.
The boat was too big to turn at the dock, so it turned at the entrance to the marina and backed all the way in. Viking 70 is owned by Pat Healey of New Gretna in Bass River Township. They had six white marlin flags flying, so it had been a good trip for releases.
The white marlin they brought to Booth weighed 66 pounds.
Tournament spokesman Jeff Merrill said in a statement that Tuesday's catch of 21 bigeye was a tournament record, and as of Thursday they had racked up 44 tuna. The heaviest three were 233, 224 and 217 pounds.
Final tournament results will be announced today.