Now in its 18th season, the Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic has become a standout event on the US Gulf Coast tournament circuit. This year, the fleet headed out for some stiff competition in near-perfect weather conditions, vying for a share of the $1.7 million cash purse.
And while the event hosted teams from across the Gulf of Mexico, it was the hometown favorites aboard Mollie, a Destin-based 66-foot G&S, who emerged victorious. Angler Wes Long, Capt. Jeff Shoults, mates Chance Young, Sawyer Henderson and Josh Goodson, and the rest of the team won first place with their 660.4-pound blue marlin, as well as third place in the release division with an additional three blues released. With the tournament payouts plus multiple optional jackpots, the team earned $514,933 for the win.
“We are very fortunate to do something we love for a living,” Shoults said afterward. “We had an outstanding trip. Four out of the five anglers on board caught blue marlin, and to win our hometown tournament is pretty awesome.”
Panhandler, a 54-foot Hatteras owned by Tim O’Brien and skippered by Capt. Travis Gill, was the second-place team. They weighed a 601-pound blue marlin that was worth $182,274 for the team, which is based in Pensacola, Florida. Charlie Thomas III and his crew aboard Fins Up, a 54-foot Bertram from Orange Beach, Alabama, earned third-place honors with a 553.3-pound blue marlin. Capt. JJ English and the team earned $57,282 for their efforts.
The hard-luck story of the tournament fell to the team aboard Liquid Apple, a 68-foot Viking owned by Gary Applewhite and run by Capt. Ron Woodruff. They had a blue that went deep, became tail-wrapped and died during the fight. They hand-lined the fish up from the depths and boated it; at the scales, it measured 688.8 pounds and would have won the event, had it not been self-disqualified by the team.
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In the release division, Fleur de Lis, a 72-foot Viking with Capt. Scooter Porto at the helm, released four blue marlin to claim the top prize of $159,415. Mon Chari, with Capt. Matt Coppoletta and angler Damon Chouest, came in second, and Mollie finished in third.