Nineteen-year-old Cole Pirrung has, like many anglers before him, been fishing for most of his life. Pirrung says he was always at the river and lake with friends and the first time he ever went offshore was with his grandparents to try bottom fishing when he was around 12 years old. His father, Dave Pirrung, also played a large part in Cole’s interest to go after bigger fish along the Atlantic coastline having fished the Big Rock when his sons were all young.
“I was always too young to go and later on we got a little more involved in the offshore fishing when we got a boat,” Cole says.
Then in 2019 Cole got his first chance to fish Big Rock where he fished with his father and brothers, Luke and Connor—that year Connor weighed a 569.9-pound blue aboard Donna Mae. Then, last year, the team changed boats when the Widespread, a 51′ Crown Marine charter boat out of Oregon Inlet, was purchased.
When the 63rd annual Big Rock rolled around, the Pirrung family name was once again part of the tournament chatter when on day four Luke reeled in a 479.2-pound marlin putting the Widespread team in third place.
“We were out celebrating later than we probably should have been, we were just excited about the third place spot,” Cole says. “Later on our captain was like ‘we’re going out tomorrow. It’s fishable.'”
With little sleep and an early start to the day, the Widespread team headed to the fishing grounds on Friday morning where a few bites came in early on but yielded no results.
Eventually, Cole and a few others found themselves in the salon watching the U.S. Open when Dave told them it was time to change up their luck.
“Everyone was standing around in the cockpit when the fish came up through the spread and started ripping stuff up. It came up on the left short and it thrashed the bait and I saw how big its shoulders were and I was like ‘that’s probably a nice fish’ and then it started jumping around,” Cole says.
It wasn’t until one of the mate’s pointed out how clearly the fish could be seen from around 100 yards away that Cole realized they weren’t dealing with any ordinary marlin.
“They’re screaming at me to get in the chair and get buckled up so I got all in there and situated and then they handed me the rod and I listened to it run. It ran and I got to the back of the line and finally got some back,” Cole says. “Early on in the fight, probably about 30 minutes in, I saw the leader and I thought, ‘wow this one’s coming in quick. It used all its energy.”
Cole describes that first hour as the most exhausting with the blue going on multiple runs forcing the young angler to pay extra attention so that the line didn’t bird nest.
“After that I got some wraps back and he would take some, I would take some, we were just going back and forth, me versus the fish for awhile there and it was super exhausting. At one point I was so tired someone on the boat got me a chocolate milk and told me to drink some and that was the turning point in the fight.”
The fight lasted around four hours with a break finally coming when the crew saw the leader again and started getting the gaffs and tail rope ready. Cole recalls seeing the fish come up still very much alive and ready for another run if not for first mate Justin Walters who grabbed the leader and horsed the fish up next to the boat where it was quickly gaffed.
“If our mates didn’t gaff it when it when they did if it got its head back down it probably would have been another hour in the fight,” Cole says. “I couldn’t see the fish yet but I just saw thrashing behind the boat and I saw water spraying everywhere and then I saw its head come through the door and in my mind I knew it was big enough to win the Big Rock.”
The Widespread home port for the tournament was Hatteras where they fished out of Teach’s Lair, which meant once the blue was on board it would be a long run to Morehead, a several hour trip that wouldn’t bring them to the dock until after sunset.
“I was so exhausted I laid down in one of the forward bunks for like two minutes and thought ‘there’s no way I’m sleeping.’ Everyone was just excited the whole way.”
The Widespread team backed their boat into the weigh station around 10:30 that night and were awarded with a number that would ultimately win them the Big Rock and more than $1.6 million: 656.5 pounds.
“When they said that number I was in disbelief,” Cole recalls. “I’m definitely still on cloud nine. I don’t think what I did has fully sunk in yet but I think sooner or later I’m going to realize the accomplishment of it.”
As for what brought in that first place fish, Cole attributes it to to more than just luck.
“You gotta be really lucky and once you get the luck and if everything lines up you’ve got to be ready for a fight. It’s definitely a humbling experience fighting a fish of that size. It was good conditions and our captain fishes that water everyday so he knows the water, he knows what to look for. He’s got a nose for the fish and our captain and both of our mates were really dialed in, their eyes were on the spread the whole day. We just had a good crew, good captain and good luck.”
Despite the momentous win, Cole and his family on the Widespread aren’t done yet. There’s the Pirate’s Cove Billfish Tournament in August and talks of the White Marlin Open as well. In the meantime, this young gun is hoping to get offshore again and catch some tuna or mahi with his dad and brothers.
“I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else.”