Young Team Wins Big in the Emerald Coast Classic

A borrowed boat and a scraped-together entry fee earns first place

team can't deny it gulf of mexico 2018 emerald coast classic
Can't Deny It heading south in the Gulf of Mexico.Courtesy Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic

Four high school buddies — Will Beard, Ritchie Prince, Todd Terreson, Pete VanLingen and Mac Waller — wanted nothing more as a graduation gift to themselves than to fish the ultra-competitive Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic. In a Cinderella story for the record books, owner Doug Terreson said he would provide the boat, the gear, the fuel and the manpower, but the kids would have to come up with the $6,000 entry fee —which they did, barely.

In a fleet of 90 other professional teams, one of the smallest boats of the field headed south to compete for what would be an estimated $2.2 million in prize money. Terreson knew the boys were up against the best crews in the Gulf, but still, he and Capt. Bo Keough stayed on the bridge to let the boys do all the work. “It really was something,” muses Terreson.

The near-700-pounder was hooked on a chugger lure by Will Beard, and after almost two hours, the fish was boated. This was the only trolled blue taken during the tournament - all the other weighed fish were caught on live bait. The team also released one other blue, a white marlin, and weighed in a qualifying tuna, wahoo, and mahi during the course of the tournament.

“It’s finally sinking in,” said top angler Will Beard, before the awards ceremony, “I am very grateful to Mr. Terreson for giving us this opportunity.”

The team aboard the 72-foot Viking Yacht, Born2Run out of Pensacola, Florida, let go four blue marlin, winning the first-place release award and close to $329,000 — the largest payout ever in the Gulf of Mexico for a release award — with owner Dana Foster being named top release angler for the tournament.

Chris Ferrara's team on Reel Fire took the second-place weighed fish award with a 665.2-pound blue marlin worth $308,124, and top lady angler, Sydney Turner-Bankston weighed in a 640.8-pound blue one for Capt. Joey Birbeck on the F&S Boatworks, You Never Know!, earning the team $264,407 for the second-place release team title with two blues released, and third-place boated blue marlin.

The third-place release team was past Emerald Coast winner, Done Deal with two blue marlin releases. The team barely missed setting a new tournament tuna record (by a half-pound) with a 190.2-pound yellowfin. The Done Deal team received an overall payout of $131,703.

The Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic at the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort set a participation record in 2018 with 91 teams competing. A total of five blue marlin were weighed in the tournament; 43 blues were released, as were 12 white marlin and one sailfish. The 17th annual event is scheduled for June 19-23, 2019.

team can't deny it at the 2018 emerald coast blue marlin classic
The teens aboard Doug Terreson's Can't Deny It plan to split their $131,040 in winnings.Courtesy Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic
team born2run at the 2018 emerald coast blue marlin classic
The top release team, Born2Run also received a top crew award for their efforts – the release portion of the payout being the largest ever in the Gulf for an all-release score.Courtesy Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic
fleet of boats at the 2018 emerald coast blue marlin classic
Sitting on go, the fleet is anxious to start the 16th annual Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic.Courtesy Capt. Dave Lear
team reel fire at the 2018 emerald coast blue marlin classic
The Reel Fire team with their second-place, 665.2-pound blue marlin on the scale.Courtesy Capt. Dave Lear
team reel fire at the 2018 emerald coast blue marlin classic
Chris Ferrara's Reel Fire team also placed second in the release division.Courtesy Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic
team done deal at the 2018 emerald coast blue marlin classic
The 190.2-pound yellowfin that almost set a new tuna record for the tournament, caught by top lady angler, Katie Gonsoulin aboard Done Deal.Courtesy Capt. Dave Lear
team you never know at the 2018 emerald coast blue marlin classic
The You Never Know! team placed third in the heaviest blue marlin category, and second in the release division, earning them over $260,000.Courtesy Capt. Dave Lear
team can't deny it at the emerald coast blue marlin classic
The young men on Can't Deny It celebrate as the weight of their winning blue marlin is announced by the tournament officials.Courtesy Capt. Dave Lear