Article Courtesy: hamptonroads.com | By Lee Tolliver | Originally published: August 8, 2015 | Please click here for original article.
Waiting is always the hardest part.
It took Cheryl McLeskey only 10 minutes to reel in a 94-pound white marlin Wednesday. But the hours that trickled by on Thursday and Friday were excruciating, as she and the team on the Backlash waited to see whether the fish she caught would hold on as the leader in the White Marlin Open.
At stake was $1.1 million.
Team Backlash didn’t fish the last two days because of rough seas.
Early Friday evening, as the final boats pulled into the Harbour Island Marina docks in Ocean City, Md., during a huge party, the word finally came – no other teams had caught a white marlin bigger than McLeskey’s.
Team Backlash erupted in celebration upon learning it would take home the top prize in one of the East Coast’s biggest billfish tournaments. This year’s open featured 307 teams competing for $3.8 million in prizes.
McLeskey became the first female winner, and her fish was the third largest ever caught in the event.
Other team members are mate Chris Ward, Mike Gingell, Rachael Davanzo, Kurt Ward and Will Austin.
The wait wasn’t without a couple of scares. The team on Lights Out showed up at the docks with a lengthy but skinny fish that ended up weighing 79 pounds. It was enough, though, to win the team nearly $1 million.
Another team followed with two big tuna.
“We’ve been so nervous. These are some of the best anglers in the world,” McLeskey said during the final day’s weigh-in. “The feeling is indescribable.”
McLeskey said she was dedicating the victory to her husband, Wayne, who died two years ago. Wayne McLeskey was a developer in Virginia Beach who owned the Virginia Beach Fishing Center and served as a member of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission’s board.
“He did so much for fishing in Virginia Beach,” she said.
Backlash’s win is the third in 11 years for a Virginia Beach team.
Brett Jamison on the Canyon Express won $1.3 million in 2004 with an 84-pound white marlin, and John Frankos on the Rebel followed in 2007 with an 83-pounder worth $1.4 million.
Team Backlash had hoped to fish the final two days and concentrate its efforts on catching a blue marlin big enough to top the 551-pounder weighed in on Monday. That fish stood to win Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., angler Larry Hesse Jr., and his team $595,000. But as of late Friday evening, a team was still at sea fighting a huge blue.
The victory turned out to be a wonderful birthday present for the winning captain and angler. Backlash was the No. 87 boat in the field, and Richardson’s birthday is 8-7.
“How awesome is that,” said McLeskey, whose birthday is today, 8-8. “I’ve fished in tournaments before, but I’m really hooked. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought we would have come up here and done this. And to do it as a female angler makes it all that more special.”
Above: Cheryl McLeskey’s 94-pound white marlin caught Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015, was enough to claim the win at the 42nd annual White Marlin Open. (Courtesy photo)