The North Carolina Governor's Cup Billfishing Conservation Series got off to a great start during the Hatteras Village Offshore Open when the Tyler II released three blue marlin to offset a big catch by the M & M and secure the tournament win.

The Tyler II crew, led by Capt. Edgar Styron, Hatteras, and owner Richard Davis, Herndon, Va., tallied their first release on Thursday and then followed it up on Saturday with two more. The releases were counted as 400 points each and the Tyler II easily outdistanced the field, including their closest challenger, the M & M, which weighed the largest blue marlin of the tournament.

The Hatteras Village Offshore Open began with a Captains Meeting and Party on May 16. Participants then chose three of the four days between May 17 and May 20 for fishing. Several boats used Thursday as their lay day, but most chose to sit out gusty winds on Friday.

The tournament began with 2 white marlin and 2 blue marlin being released on Wednesday and the eventual third place finisher, Reel Love, with captain and owner Jeff Vreugdenhill of Clinton, bringing a 469 pound blue marlin to the scales.

On Thursday, the releases included 1 white marlin and 2 blue marlin. The M & M, with captain and owner Miles Datesman of Mars, Pennsylvania and angler Rick Ford, caught their 563 pound blue marlin, which was the largest of the tournament, on Thursday.

Another blue marlin was brought in on Thursday that didn't quite make the tournament minimum size of 400 pounds or 110 inches. It was a legal catch at 383 pounds and 103.5 inches, but didn't quite make the larger tournament minimum.

All but 9 of the boats chose to sit out on Friday and it showed in the results. No marlin were weighed or released on Friday. The most notable catch on Friday was the big bull dolphin that topped the Dolphin Division. It was caught by Capt. Bruce Armstrong, Hatteras, and the crew on the Sea Angel II and weighed 50.65 pounds.

Saturday was the busiest day for releases and became the deciding day in the tournament. There were 8 blue marlin, 2 white marlin and 1 sailfish released on Saturday, with no billfish delivered to the scales. The Tyler II collected 2 of the Saturday releases, which combined with their single release from Thursday to seal the win.

The largest tuna was a 52.95 pounder caught by Capt. Bret Meisenheimer, Manteo, and the crew of the Time Out. The largest wahoo was caught by Capt. Fin Gaddy, Manteo, and the crew of the Qualifier. It weighed in at 81.75 pounds.

Most billfish tournaments have a basic tournament or level, which all participating boats must enter. They also have several other levels or tournaments-within-a-tournament that are optional and the boats choose to participate or not. Many times the prize money in these secondary levels can exceed the prizes for the basic tournament and allow a lower finishing boat to collect more winnings than the winning boat. This was the case in this year's Hatteras Village Offshore Open.

Both the Tyler II and the M & M were entered in the basic tournament (level 1), plus level 2 (Additional Billfish), level 3 (Gamefish) and level 4 (Largest Blue Marlin). The Tyler II won levels 1 and 2 and collected $41,990 for their efforts and that certainly is a nice payday. However, in combining their winnings for second place in levels 1 and 2, plus first place in level 4 (level 4 is winner-take-all), the M & M tallied winnings of $72,794. The level 3 winnings of $5,780 each were collected by the Time Out (tuna), Sea Angel II (dolphin) and Qualifier (wahoo).

A record 68 boats participated in the 2006 Hatteras Village Offshore Open. The sea conditions were pretty good on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, while Friday was a bit rougher, but still fished by a few boats. In addition to the great fishing, tournament participants were treated to a barbecue and Fried turkey dinner at the Captains Meeting, a "Taste of the Village" sampler on Thursday and an Awards Dinner on Saturday.

Money raised by the Hatteras Village Offshore Open is distributed to various charities on Hatteras Island and several local scholarship funds. After the awards an auction of donated items was held and an additional $10,000 was raised for those endeavors.

The Tyler II and M & M are not participating in the N.C. Governor's Cup Billfish Conservation Series, so as the series heads to its next stop at Swansboro, the Reel Love leads the Overall Points standings and also the Largest Blue Marlin category. Interestingly enough, the Reel Love is one of the smallest boats in the Governor's Cup Series at 28-feet long.