In its 11th year, the Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic at Sandestin, presented by Mojo Sportswear Company, was highlighted by a record number of game fish. With beautiful weather, a field of 70 boats and more than $1.4 million at stake, this year’s event was another resounding success, confirming its reputation as one of the greatest big game tournaments in the world.
An event the magnitude of the Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic doesn’t happen overnight. Many weeks of planning, staging and organizing are required to ensure the event goes off without a hitch. It also takes the generosity and support of numerous sponsors including the perennial title host, Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort.
The real battle between species occurred in the tuna category. As one after another were hoisted aloft, the lead changed hands multiple times.
Top-notch tournament teams are always under pressure to perform, and when you’re the reigning tournament champ, there’s even more at stake. But when you’re one of the hottest boats on the high-stakes Gulf billfish circuit, you might as well paint a bullseye across your transom. Yet even with a fleet of boats gunning for them, Captain Jason Buck and the team aboard Done Deal weren’t worried. “I try not to think about it and just go do my work,” the soft-spoken skipper said as he and his mates prepped for the start of the 2013 Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic.
Fishing in victory-at-sea conditions last year, owner John Gonsoulin, angler Travis Dorland, and crew overcame big waves and a 783.6-pound blue marlin to capture the event’s top prize. In addition to earning the team $261,540 in overall prize money, the big blue was also the largest fish ever weighed in the Classic. While anglers competing in the 2013 event brought some impressive fish to the scales, the record is safe for another year.
A multi-day tournament, boats are permitted to leave Baytowne Marina Thursday afternoon and must return by Saturday night. After the first day of fishing only one boat made it to the scales. Islander, a 36 foot Miller custom convertible home-ported at the marina, thrilled the crowd by weighing a nice dolphin. The 35-pounder instantly put angler Robert LaChapelle of Marietta, Georgia, atop the leaderboard.
“It was nice out there and very calm,” the tired but happy angler recalled. “There was a lot of bait. We were fishing east-southeast of the Spur about 25 miles when the fish ate a cigar minnow. I caught him on 25 lb. line on a spinning rod.”
The team planned to grab a quick nap before heading back offshore again at 3:00 a.m. Saturday morning.
Rumors of a big fish boated were confirmed when Hallie Brown, who works with tournament sponsor Gulf Coast Hatteras, received a satellite phone call from her husband. Marlin Brown was fishing aboard CE, a 65 foot Hatteras convertible based in Point Clear, Alabama. Brown told his wife they boated a blue marlin that taped out to 117 inches.
“The connection wasn’t that good. I could hear the engines in the background, they were running hard,” Hallie relayed. “He said they were 149 miles offshore and wouldn’t make it back in time tonight, but they’ll be here tomorrow.”
By Saturday night there was no shortage of tales about big ones that got away…but there wasn’t any shortage of big tuna, either. By the time the scales closed at midnight one thing was certain—CE was the undisputed winner in the billfish division. The crew of the 65 Hatteras brought the only blue marlin to the scales for 2013, and there wasn’t any doubt about its qualifications.
“The fight lasted one hour and 47 minutes,” angler Scott Cooper explained. “We were about 140 miles southwest of here when the fish ate a 20-pound yellowfin tuna. Bait was really hard to find, but apparently we had the right one.”
Cooper’s blue weighed 613.4 pounds and earned the team $283,800 in several categories, including 1st Place marlin and a couple of jackpot awards.
“We hooked that fish at about 4:00 p.m. on Friday,” Captain Russell Craft added. “We caught it on 80 lb. line, 400 lb. leader and a 19/0 circle-hook. Once we got it boated we knew we’d never make it back in before the scales closed, so we fished our way back, hoping to score some releases to get in both categories.”
Dozens of slammer dolphin were weighed throughout the evening, yet Ryan Engquist on Chasin’ Tail captured the biggest with a 51.3-pound fish. Steve Bozeman on Restitution III was top stick in the wahoo category with a 55.5-pound stud, good enough for $26,773. The real battle between species occurred in the tuna category. As one after another were hoisted aloft, the lead changed hands multiple times. In the end, Kate Ferrara, fishing aboard Reel Fire, emerged triumphant. The petite angler, who only weighs 106 pounds herself, bested a 164.1-pound yellowfin after a battle lasting 1 hour and 5 minutes. Ferrara’s tuna ate a blue and white skirted bait trolled along a weedline. The lady angler and her Grand Isle, Louisiana-based team won $96,073 for their big fish.
Testing the Water was the top release boat with 1,000 points awarded for catching two blue marlin. The team won $39,525 for its efforts. Breathe Reel Deep came in second place in the Release Division with a blue and a white marlin based on time, followed by Committed with four sailfish. The 2nd and 3rd Places paid $106,515 and $114,570 based on team standings and jackpot entries.
Spike Lord on Ms. Castle, a local Destin boat, pocketed $27,980 for his 163.7-pound tuna, while Jonathan Guarisco on Trust Fun rounded out the field with a 144.4-pound fish that earned them $7,253.
Caroline Powell, fishing aboard Trader’s Hill, was 2nd in the wahoo species category, earning $64,880 for the fish award and jackpots, while Lucky 2 and angler Fred Dobbs came in 3rd Place. Their efforts resulted in a check for $18,300. Several other teams took home hefty paydays based on entries in the optional cash categories. These jackpots can be very lucrative depending on the number of teams participating. Amarula Sun scored $43,312 in several marlin release jackpots. Iona Louise did the same by weighing a 114.3-pound yellowfin to earn $22,995. Wynsong won $23,355 with both dolphin and wahoo jackpots, while You Never Know! cashed in with two tuna worth a total of $63,135.
Deb Hebert on Iona Louise was declared the top lady angler for 2013 based on overall points. Fourteen-year-old Parker Green won the top junior angler title by releasing one blue marlin aboard Testing the Water.
“It was another awesome event,” says Tournament Director Shawna Harris. “We had one big blue come to the scales, 32 billfish caught and a new tournament record in the number of game fish weighed. The weather couldn’t have been better and our 449 anglers had a fun time. I look forward to seeing everyone back again next season.” For complete results and info on how to compete in next year’s Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic, be sure to visit fishecbc.com.