2016 Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic – Sandestin
Rise Up Earns Grand Champion Honors with 838 Pound Blue Marlin
Miramar Beach, Fla (June 28, 2016)—The 14th annual Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic took place June 22-26 at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort’s Baytowne Marina and Rise Up, a Destin-based Viking 54, made a vertical leap by scaling the largest blue marlin of the tournament, earning the Grand Champion title and the biggest chunk of the record $1.95 million in overall prize money. Rusty Skalla of Savannah, Georgia, is the boat’s owner.
“This was a huge win, especially for a hometown team. It’s always been a dream to win this tournament and now we’ve finally done it,” he explained. “We knew it would be close. Jason (Capt. Jason Hallmark) said it would be under five pounds and it was. So we’re off to Orange Beach next to try for the Triple Crown. It’s a long shot, but we may get lucky and have a chance at that trophy too.” Angler Scott Poppell, also from Savannah, Mike Cournoyer and Jim Bennett, weighed an 838.2-pound blue marlin early Saturday evening to claim the top prize. Rise Up was also named the second-place release team overall after letting two blues swim away. Those catches earned the team a whopping $431,835 payout, including optional jackpot entries.
Matt McDonald, Chad Postle, Capt. Patrick Ivie and this season’s firecracker team aboard Breathe Easy confirmed the rising cost of fresh seafood. After scaling what appeared to be a sure winner Friday night, a blue weighing 835.8 pounds, the team decided against going back out only to have Rise Up edge them by 2.4 pounds. That fish was still good for second place and a consolation prize of $257,400 with optional entries. Had they held on to first, however, Breathe Easy would have won $422,000 instead, a difference of about a $68,750 per pound.
The Kraken, a buddy team from Ocean Springs, Mississippi, took full advantage of the only opportunity presented when angler Fouad Zayed whipped a 652.2-pound blue on 30-pound line. The Kraken is a 33 Conch center console. That feat earned the team third place billfish honors and a check for $40,800.
Done Deal, a 70 Viking owned by Jon Gonsolin of Houma, Louisiana, brought the fourth and final marlin to the weigh scales Saturday night. Daughter Katie Gonsolin caught the 409-pounder with ease and also released a blue. Done Deal pocketed $133,740 in optional entry jackpots for the weekend.
Owner Dana Foster, Capt. Myles Colley and the team aboard Born2Run, a 63 Hatteras based in Pensacola, Florida, proved how lucrative releasing marlin can be. Foster scored four blues, worth 500 points apiece, to win top release angler recognition, first-place release team and crew, plus jackpot money worth $241,400. Rise Up was second overall, followed by Reel Fire ($67,325). A Work of Art and Pair-A-Dice also won jackpots for releasing billfish.
Kenny Tamm, Capt. Matt Condon and the Marlin Darlin team (Viking 70), earned a spot in the ECBC record books by boating the largest yellowfin tuna ever caught in the 14-year history of the event. The 190.6-pounder was good for a $74,911 payout. One More took second place in the division with a 186.3-pound fish. That, combined with a 33.1 dolphin, earned a check totaling $153,257. Team Supreme was the third-place tuna winner with a 164.8-pound fish, good for $66,284. Caribe, Mollie and Southern Miss also won jackpot prize money for hefty yellowfins.
Another all-time ECBC record fell when Lucky 2 gaffed the new top weight wahoo at 112.2 pounds. That chunky speedster, along with the third place fish (69.8 pounds) earned anglers Lynn Layton and Conrad Hawkins, respectively, a $75,923 payout. Tommy Green is the boat’s skipper. Larry Wireman on Caribe captured the third-place wahoo at 90.2 pounds. Backdown 2 and Trader’s Hill also won wahoo prize money for their fish.
Chef Emeril Lagasse, Capt. Brad Benton and the team aboard Aldente are preparing a very tasty dolphin meal. Their 36.6-pound bull was the largest caught and with jackpots, was worth $125,266. Cazador, a 41 Sea Hunter, had the second-largest dolphin at 36.1 pounds, good for $42,895, followed by Pier Pressure with a 34.1-pounder. Don’t Blink and Overbite took home some of the optional dolphin prize money as well.
Sydney Turner, fishing aboard You Never Know! (Capt. Joey Birbeck) was named the top Lady Angler for releasing a blue and white marlin, plus boating two 100-pound plus yellowfins. Avery Davis on Sea Mixer (Capt. Devin Potts) also released a blue to earn the Top Junior Billfish Angler title. Omar Hyman, fishing aboard First Choice with Capt. James Galloway, outlasted a 137.4-pound yellowfin to claim the Top Gamefish Junior Angler honors.
During 2.5 days of fishing, the record fleet of 85 boats caught 55 billfish total. Twenty-three blues (with four boated), 12 sailfish and 20 white marlin were recorded, representing an overall release ratio of 92.7 percent. The 86 gamefish caught totaled 6,983.3 pounds, tallied by 46 tuna, 25 dolphin and 15 wahoo.
“I know this sounds like a broken record, but that’s exactly what we accomplished for our 14th anniversary celebration,” said Tournament Director Adam Alfonso. “Most boats ever, largest overall purse ever at nearly $2 million, plus new tuna and wahoo marks. Wow, what a fabulous week, matched by beautiful weather and outstanding fishing. We couldn’t do any of this without Wind Creek Casino & Hotel-Atmore, plus dozens and dozens more sponsors. Thanks to all for partnering with us on this great event. I can’t wait to shatter still more records next summer.”
Known as the richest big-game tournament in the Gulf of Mexico, the Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic is hosted by Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort. Wind Creek Casino & Hotel-Atmore was the 2016 Presenting Sponsor. Next year’s ECBC is scheduled for June 21-25, 2017.
About Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort
Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort is a major destination for all seasons and all ages, and was named the #1 resort on Florida’s Emerald Coast. The resort invites guests to a world of 2,400 acres and 30 charming neighborhoods featuring more than 1,250 South Walton vacation rentals, condominiums, villas, town homes and the best in hotel accommodations. As a member of Visit South Walton and Visit Florida, the resort features more than seven miles of beaches and pristine bay front, four championship golf courses, 15 world-class tennis courts, 19 swimming pools, a 113-slip marina, a fitness center and spa, meeting space and The Village of Baytowne Wharf, a charming pedestrian village with events, shopping, dining and nightlife. People are invited to download Sandestin’s APP for iPhone and Android devices, or become a Facebook Fan or Twitter follower for the latest events and news.