Edging out the competition by just 3 pounds, Dre Fleury earned the title of Wrightsville Beach Spearfishing Tournament master hunter for the second consecutive year.
Fleury, of Charlotte, N.C., scored 73.2 pounds of catch over two and one-half days of spearfishing July 17-19, while Brian Atack of Oak Island, N.C., brought in 70.3 pounds.
“There was great weather. The divers brought in an incredible amount of fish,” tournament organizer Ryan McInnis said.
The divers said the competition started with challenging conditions on Friday. But the ocean was more hospitable on Saturday and Sunday, they said.
“The first day was pretty rough. The wind was blowing and creating rough seas,” Atack said.
The tournament was moved back one month this year to July, which Fleury said resulted in overall calmer seas for the weekend.
“The conditions were epic,” Fleury said of the weekend weather. “It was flat, calm and beautiful. We were 60 miles offshore and we had top-to-bottom visibility.”
The women’s division master hunter Kathryn Dillen, of Castle Hayne, N.C., said the difficult conditions Friday made the catch that much more satisfying. Dillen brought in 26 pounds of catch in what was only her second time ever spearfishing.
“That made it worth it,” Dillen said. “I wanted to have a successful dive. I had a blast.”
Sam Blount caught the biggest lobster at 15.2 pounds, which McInnis described as a prehistoric relic.
“A 12-pound lobster is considered huge,” he said.
Other winners included Mark Winneberger, University of North Carolina Wilmington spearfishing club president, who won the pelagic division with 60.9 pounds. Jason Dillen, of Castle Hayne, N.C., won the bottom fish division with 48.1 pounds while Mark Laboccetta and Patrick Freeman shared the inshore division with 10.2 pounds each. Jim Atack won the tournament’s sportsmanship award.
The competitors were split between scuba and freedivers, who descend below water using only their held breath. McInnis said about 60 percent of the entries were from scuba spearfishers while 40 percent were free divers.
Though different disciplines, McInnis said the competition is fair. While scuba divers have more time under the water, they have fewer options for hunting fish, as the bubbles scare them off. Freedivers have limited time, but more fish to hunt.
And while the goal of the tournament is to bring in the most fish, McInnis said the tournament also offered many opportunities to help local marine life.
Many tournament contestants had the option to donate their fish carcasses to the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, which can examine the fish’s inner ear bone to determine its age, similar to counting the rings on a tree. The data will help the state’s Department of Environmental and Natural Resources develop more accurate information on the state’s fish population.
The tournament also featured a contest for hunting the most lionfish, an invasive species that preys on local species. Erin Burge won the lionfish award by spearing 42. Additionally, 10 percent of the tournament proceeds went to Divers Alert Network, a scuba safety organization.