Few would argue that legendary football coach-turned-broadcaster Jimmy Johnson hosts one of the world’s finest sport-fishing tournaments, aptly named Jimmy Johnson’s National Billfish Championship. This year, Johnson and his sponsors at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino upped the ante, offering a guaranteed prize purse of $1 million. This is in addition to the championship rings and entrance into Johnson’s “Ring of Honor” for past tournament winners.
The week-long event kicked off at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino and Café in Hollywood, Florida, on March 4, 2017, before moving down to Jimmy Johnson’s Big Chill in Key Largo, Florida. Events included a celebrity pro-am tournament along with the two-day National Billfish Championship and one-day National Sportfish Championship.
But with the champion’s rings and the lion’s share of the cash on the line, all eyes were on the National Billfish Championship. And with 19 sailfish releases, the team on Astra Sails / Hook Bling emerged as top dogs. Capt. Greg Graham led team members John McTurk, Mike Levy, Madison Roberts, Brad Zimmerman, Will Osthe, Steve Smith, Morgan Cadell and Andi de Young to victory. And it was indeed a sweet one, with $416,250 in cash prizes for the winners.
In second place would be another familiar name in tournament circles: Capt. J.C. Cleary and HellREYzer. Anglers Rudy Espinosa, Ryan Alexander, Eric Darvill, Jorge Corzo, Michelle Beltran, Ray Acosta, and Nick Carullo released 17 sailfish to place second overall. They took home checks worth $265,250 for the finish.
Thirteen sails led to a third-place finish for Owl’s Nest. Stephanie Choate from Miss Britt/Contender was the event’s top angler and top lady angler.
In addition to the tournament payouts, the tournament was able to raise over $75,000 for various charities through the celebrity pro-am and fundraising efforts at the tournament awards dinner. Beneficiaries included Tranquil Shores Foundation, Walking with Anthony, Twan Russell Foundation and Fishing for Muscular Dystrophy.