By Jonathan Owens
There aren’t a lot of people who can say they went up against Michael Jordan on the biggest stage and came out on top.
Harnett County native Riley Adkins, 20, and his crewmates on the Pelagic Hunter II can. Adkins was first mate on the crew that hauled in a 495.2-pound blue marlin to win the 62nd Annual Big Rock Fishing Tournament, one of the largest and oldest sportfishing events in the country, in early June.
The Pelagic Hunter II’s marlin was just two-tenth of a pound heavier than the second-place fish and netted the crew more than $225,000 in winnings. It’s the only center-console outboard boat to win Big Rock, according to Adkins, the boat’s first mate.
“We’re still on Cloud 9. We talk about it every day,” Adkins said almost a month later, between charter fishing trips. “The money will go away, but the feeling of winning will be with us until we’re gone.”
The weeklong event came down to the wire for the crew. They finally made the catch on Friday, on the second-to-last day of the tournament.
“We had a charter on Monday, so we had to take clients out on the best day of the tournament,” Adkins said. “We hooked up and lost a fish on Tuesday that was actually bigger than the one that won it for us.”
Captain John Cruise, Adkins and crew hooked the marlin and fought it to within about 50 yards of the boat within an hour-and-a-half, but it dove 1,500 meters straight down. They finally pulled it on the boat five hours later.
The weeklong tournament’s prominence was heightened this year not only by the fact that it was one of the only sports happening in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, but by a certain entry of arguably the biggest name in sports history. Social media lit up with pictures of Jordan and his boat, cleverly named Catch-23.
Jordan’s boat was just off the Pelagic’s port side when Adkins and crew hauled in the winning catch. He said he didn’t get to meet the basketball legend, and was too focused to notice the hype.
“We went into this tournament with the sole purpose to win it,” Adkins said. “The captain was very clear and direct. We were out there against million dollar boats. We did a ton of research. Hands down, we worked harder than any boat out there.”
Jordan’s boat, a 80-foot Viking fishing boat named Catch-23, hauled in a 442-pound blue marlin and finished ninth.
A graduate of Triton High School, Adkins said his love of fishing comes from trips to the coast for charters with his dad and his friends.