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Reeling in a Big Catch

Madison Struyk ’15 runs the nation’s largest blue marlin fishing tournament.

By Ed Williams

Madison Struyk ’15 recalls early years fishing off the coast of her native Morehead City, N.C.  “My dad used to take me fishing all the time,” she says. “When I was 8 or 9, I remember coming down to the Big Rock to see the weigh-in.”

“Weigh-in” is the revelatory moment when competitors in the Big Rock Blue Marlin Fishing Tournament record the weight of their catch, chasing a $3.3 million purse that annually attracts 200-plus participants from across the United States.

When I was 8 or 9, I remember coming down to the Big Rock to see the weigh-in.
Madison Struyk ’15

Today, Struyk, 28, is the executive director of the Big Rock Tournament — the oldest and largest of its kind in the U.S. She supervises the team planning the tournament, recruiting sponsors, registering competitors, seeking grants, handling retail sales and administering charitable contributions.

“We wear a lot of hats,” she says. “I love how rewarding this is, what with ‘charity first’ being our motto.” Last year, $1 million was donated to nonprofits like hospice, scouting, soup kitchens and more.

Since 1957, the tournament has drawn participants to the Gulf Stream waters off Morehead, hunting one of the most beautiful and elusive of fighting fish. The marlins caught for the tournament can weigh from 420 to 650 pounds.

Struyk considered leveraging her sport management degree with professional sports, maybe the Hurricanes in Raleigh or the Panthers in Charlotte. But after graduation, she interned with Big Rock — and she was hooked.

Working first as retail assistant/social media coordinator, she was promoted to director of the tournament’s women’s category, and in 2019 she was named the tournament’s assistant director. Last year she was promoted to executive director.

This year’s tournament, held in June, was broadcast over its Big Rock TV social media channel, catching more than two million viewers in 71 countries.

Struyk’s first catch? “Likely a Spanish mackerel,” she says. “But once I got a white marlin when I was 16 or 17. It was a lot stronger than I thought.”

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