Cindy tried her best, yet even a tropical storm couldn’t deter the perseverance and skills of the committed fleet of 36 boats competing in the 2017 Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic. The final outcome was decided by only two pounds, with Don’t Blink named the 2017 tournament champion.
Angler Mike Hickey, Capt. Skip McAllister, mates Sid Little and Wayne Riles, and the crew of the 56 Viking boated a 553‑pound blue marlin to claim first place. Bill Horn added the top wahoo, weighing 67.5 pounds and those two fish, plus jackpots, earned the boat a total payout of $90,600. Jason Benton of Tallassee, Alabama, is Don’t Blink’s owner.
“We’ve fished this event since 2003, but this is our first weighed marlin,” he said. “The ECBC is my favorite tournament—I rate it a 10. None of this was by coincidence. It all worked out, and it’s something I’ll never forget.”
Sixteen‑year‑old Alex Krake and his veteran crew aboard Team Supreme, a 76 Viking based in Destin and run by Capt. Chase Lake (mates James Arnold and Rodney Johnson), made a late challenge only to come up 32 ounces short. Krake whipped a 551‑pound blue to take second‑place marlin honors, plus jackpot money for a consolation prize of $124,785. There were only two marlin weighed this year.
Geaux Deep (Capt. Joe “Fish” Hebert) won the top crew and top release team recognition with five fish scoring 1,600 points. JD Hebert was named the top release angler. The team’s efforts earned a check for $37,905. Traders Hill (Capt. Billy Blount) was second in the release division with 900 points, followed by Liquid Apple (Capt. Blake Applewhite) with 600 points. Liquid Apple won $22,965 for a weekend’s worth of fishing.
Angler Dana Foster, who owns Born2Run, a 72 Viking, scored the largest tuna of the week. His 169‑pound yellowfin, plus second place crew honors and jackpot money totaled $47,850.
Chris Crosby, fishing on Black Tip, a 61 Buddy Davis skippered by Capt. Sparky McCann, boated the second‑largest tuna, a bigeye at 142.90 pounds. Combined with a 34.70‑pound wahoo jackpot, the crew is taking $39,735 back to Key West, Florida.
Chad Postle, aboard Breathe Easy, a 68 Viking run by Capt. Patrick Ivie, also scored a double‑header with the third place tuna (142.3 pounds) and the top dolphin, a bull that tipped the scales at 27.9 pounds. Owner Matt McDonald and his seasoned team scored $47,850 for those catches.
The extended family team on Trader’s Hill, a 105 Broward guided by Capt. Billy Blount, is $35,876 richer. Drew Marshall won the top junior billfish angler title, and the team racked up three billfish releases overall and jackpot entries for its winnings.
Pullin’ Wire, another 61 Buddy Davis run by Capt. Steven Gay, caught the second‑largest wahoo for the week at 48.5 pounds. That finish, along with jackpot money, earned $9,450 for the team. Angler Wesley Carpenter, on Get Reel, a 60 Hatteras (Capt. Cheeze Alawine), rounded out the wahoo division with a speedster scaling 44.2 pounds, good for $12,885 with optional entries.
Only two dolphin met the 20‑pound minimum weight, and Justin Guidry on Emerald Grande, a 73 Donzi, wound in the second 26.7‑pound qualifier. Counting jackpot money, that dolphin was worth $37,200 for the team.
In addition to Hickey and Marshall, other special awards went to Caroline Robinson for the top lady angler trophy (Sea Mixer, Capt. Devin Potts). Guidry earned top gamefish junior angler recognition, and Don’t Blink will be representing the ECBC in the 2018 Offshore World Championship in Costa Rica.
Out of the 36 boats competing, 22 earned payouts, mostly for optional jackpot entries. The 238 anglers were competing for $624,675 in overall prize money and boated 2,163.4 pounds of fish. All of the catch was cleaned by Harbor Docks and donated to the nonprofit Harvest House to help feed the area’s less fortunate families. Other charitable recipients of the ECBC include the Sandestin Foundation for Kids and the Billfish Foundation.
“Wow, what an intense week,” said tournament director Adam Alfonso. “We dealt with our share of adversity due to the storm, but I’d like to thank all these dedicated teams for sticking with us and bringing in some exceptional fish. Thanks also to our loyal sponsors for ensuring such a world‑class event and my team for pulling it all off. We’ll be primed to break more ECBC records next year and I’ve already ordered clear skies, calm seas and a couple grander marlin.”
The 16th annual Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic is set for June 20‑24, 2018, at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort in Miramar Beach.
‑ Brooke Scholl
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