Updates from the Gulf Coast Triple Crown Championship

by Capt. Dave Lear

The Pearl Shines - Posted: Sunday, July 19, 2020 2:54 PM
By Capt. Dave Lear

Pearl, a 48 Viking based in Orange Beach, Alabama, had to wait until Saturday evening to weigh its blue marlin. The fish was boated Friday afternoon after a three-hour fight and the team missed Friday's deadline. But the wait was worth it. The 642.2-pound billfish earned the top honors in the 2020 Blue Marlin Grand Championship and catapulted the team to this year's Gulf Coast Triple Crown Championship title. The boat is owned by Andy Yarborough and was run by Capt. Bo Keough for the BMGC.

The winning marlin was caught on a live bonita soaked behind the transom near the Blind Faith rig. Aaron Prosser was in the chair for the fight, using 130-class Shimano big-game tackle. The fish was leadered multiple times before it finally tired to be gaffed and brought aboard. The win at The Wharf contest, together with participation points, helped Pearl accumulate 600 Triple Crown points overall for the title. The team took home $441,150 in the top prize and optionals for its BMGC win.

Pearl started the season with the first-place weighed blue marlin in the Orange Beach Billfish Classic, with a 603.2-entry. The team also earned participation points in the Cajun Canyons Billfish Classic, Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic and the Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic. The other team members for the BMGC win included Edgar McKee and mates Hunter Green and Kolby Thorton.

Old School - Posted: Sunday, June 28, 2020 3:53 PM
By Capt. Dave Lear

With a retro-format, the 2020 Orange Beach Open offered participants the chance to troll for billfish, tuna, wahoo and dolphin. Dead baits, lures or combinations only were allowed in this 2.5-day event, based at The Wharf Marina in Orange Beach. Live baiting was prohibited.

All billfish were released and verified by video. The Grand Slam scoring let teams earn bonus points by weighing each species of game fish, plus turn in a billfish release.

In the Catch and Release Division, Breathe Easy (Capt. Patrick Ivie) took top honors with 261 points. Quick Time was second with 175, followed by Ramble On, also with 175.

Two of the top billfish boats also cracked the Grand Slam leaderboard. Quick Time was first, followed by Breathe Easy and Wild Eagle. In the 2019 inaugural event, Team Galati was the only boat to record a Grand Slam.

In another nod to old school Gulf fishing, Wild Eagle boated a 52.6-pound bull dolphin, easily one of the top this season. Chris Myers was on the rod for that trophy.

“It’s been awhile since I’ve seen one that big,” Tournament Director Jim Cox said after the weight was announced.

Justin Irvin wound in a 188.2-pound yellowfin. Irvin was competing aboard Pipe Down.

Breathe Easy earned more than $22,000 for a couple of fun days on the water after releasing three white marlin and the Slam points. All three Catch and Release winners also scored points in the Triple Crown standings. Every boat competing in the OBO added participation bonuses.

The chase for the 2020 Gulf Coast Triple Crown Championship will reach the finish line on July 14 as the Blue Marlin Grand Championship kicks off, again at The Wharf Marina. The standings have tightened up and a strong showing in the BMGC will determine the winner. This year’s Triple Crown Champion will be announced at the awards breakfast on Sunday, July 19.

Hometown Team - Posted: Sunday, June 21, 2020 2:53 PM
By Capt. Dave Lear

With 79 boats competing for $1.74 million, the 2020 Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic was a very competitive stop on this year’s Gulf Coast Triple Crown Championship circuit. A total of seven qualifying blue marlin were recorded. Mollie, based in Destin and the 2017 Triple Crown Champion, emerged triumphant. The 66-foot G&S took the tournament trophy and third place in the release division.

Mollie was fishing near the ELF rig Friday morning when a hefty blue inhaled a live tuna bait. Angler Wes Long manned the 130-pound combo and whipped the fish in 2.5 hours. Chance Young wired the fish and Sawyer Henderson and Josh Goodson sunk the gaff points home. The 125-inch blue tipped the scales at 660.4 pounds. For its efforts, Mollie won $514,933 in prize money (tournament awards and optional entries).

“We are very fortunate to do something we love for a living,” Capt. Jeff Shoults said afterwards. “The good Lord blessed me and my crew and allowed us to catch these fish. We had an outstanding trip. Four out of the five anglers aboard caught blue marlin and to win our hometown tournament is pretty awesome.”

Panhandler, with Mike Morette in the chair and Capt. Travis Gill at the wheel, boated the second-place fish, weighing 601 pounds. The 54 Hatteras, based in Pensacola, is owned by Tim O’Brien.

Owner/angler Charles “Charlie” Thomas III landed the third-place tournament namesake. It came in at 553.3 pounds. Thomas’ boat is Fins Up, a 54 Bertram run by Capt. JJ English and based in Orange Beach.

Fleur de Lis continued its hot summer streak by releasing four blues to capture the top release boat award. Capt. Scooter Porto runs the 72 Viking home-ported in Grand Isle. Damon Chouest, competing aboard his 68 American Custom Yacht, Mon Chari, was second in the release division with 1,700 points. Chouest was also named the top release angler for 2020.

The next leg of the 2020 Triple Crown Championship is a brand-new event, the Orange Beach Open. Tournament dates are June 25-27. This family friendly venue puts the focus on fun. The unique format is strictly trolling, no live baiting allowed. Contestants can use dead baits, lures only or combinations. All billfish will be released, with weight divisions for tuna, dolphin and wahoo. Teams will earn bonus points by weighing in one entry per game fish species, plus having a verified billfish release video. The top teams will also earn points in the Triple Crown Championship standings.

Boats competing in the OBO can leave from any Gulf port and the weigh-in will be Saturday, June 27, at The Wharf Marina in Orange Beach. For more information or to register, please visit: www.orangebeachopen.com

Record Breaker - Posted: Sunday, June 14, 2020 2:43 PM
By Capt. Dave Lear

As the saying goes, “Good things come to those who wait.” That was certainly the case for the contestants in the 2020 Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic. The event, originally set for the first week of June, was delayed by Tropical Storm Cristobal. And when fuel wasn’t readily available due to post-storm flooding, boats were allowed to leave from any northern Gulf port. It didn’t take long for the action to kick off on Thursday.

Angler/owner Nick Pratt and his team aboard It Just Takes Time, a 72 Viking based in Orange Beach, was the first to the scales with a qualifying blue. It registered 570.2 pounds and never gave up the lead. That catch earned Pratt, Capt. Chris Hood and the team the MGCBC Tournament Championship and $213,600 in prize money.

Joey Geil, competing aboard Lisa Jo (Capt. Logan Lovett) cranked in the second-place blue marlin at 527.3 pounds. That fish was fooled by a belly strip pitch bait. Lisa Jo is a 55 Scarborough also based in Orange Beach.

Lolita was the last to the scales Saturday with a boated blue. Doug Womac was the angler for the 508.2-pounder. Lolita is a 68 Hatteras home-ported in Destin. The boat is run by Capt. Jeremy Cox.

The Release Division was perhaps the most competitive action in Gulf big-game history. The hot bite started Thursday afternoon and it didn’t let up until lines out Saturday. A total of 101 billfish were successfully released by the 57 boats competing, a new Gulf tournament record.

When all the diesel smoke cleared, Born2Run, a 72 Viking based in Pensacola was atop the leaderboard with 10 blue marlin releases, another Gulf record. Owner Dana Foster was on the rod for eight of those releases, while Robert Bonifay and Doug Franklin added one apiece. Myles Colley is the skipper of always competitive Viking and Tyler Maxwell mans the cockpit. Born2Run won $120,825 for its accomplishment.

Reel Fire (Capt. Chase Lake) earned second-place honors in the Release Division with eight blues, good for 4,800 points. Breathe Easy, the 2016 Gulf Coast Triple Crown Champion, was third with seven blue marlin to its credit.

Fingers are crossed the hot action continues, as the next Triple Crown venue shifts immediately to the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort for the 2020 Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic. Registration is on Wednesday, June 17, and fishing continues through Saturday, June 20.

Hot Sauce - Posted: Monday, June 1, 2020 1:08 PM
The second leg of the 2020 Gulf Coast Triple Crown Championship wrapped up June 1 as the Cajun Canyon Billfish Classic extended its schedule by a day so the 36 boats competing could enjoy more favorable weather. The Gulf of Mexico has been somewhat unsettled lately, but that didn’t stop the contestants from recording some quality fish. Crawgator, a 61-foot Viking owned by Mike Butler and run by Capt. Eric Chandler, topped the field with the only blue marlin weighed. Bill Butler was manning the rod when the 505.7-pound blue came to the gaff. Bob England on the leader.

Crawgator’s fish earned top boat and crew honors for the team. They also pocketed $123,525 for the catch, worth 1,505 points.

In the release division, Restless was the top boat with three blues to its credit, followed by Second Wind, also with three blue marlin, and All in Fishing, with two. Greg Trenor, competing aboard All in Fishing, was named the Top Angler for 2020. Christina Forrester on Restless was the Top Female Angler and Seth Broussard on Fleur de Lis was the junior top rod. A total of 23 blues and 3 white marlin were released during the event.

In the gamefish divisions Southern Charm boated the heftiest tuna, a 193.4-pounder. Two other triple-digit tuna were also brought to the scales aboard Miss Mary and Team Supreme. BuggyWasher scored the biggest dolphin at 29.9 pounds, while Escape snagged a 55.9-pound wahoo to claim bragging rights in that category.

The Cajun Canyons Billfish Classic is presented by H and E Equipment Services and hosted by the Cypress Cove Marina and Lodge in Venice, Louisiana. Steve Thomas is the tournament director.

The next stop on the 2020 Gulf Coast Triple Crown Championship line-up is the Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic in Biloxi. The fleet there will be starting a week later, due to the uncertainty surrounding Tropical Storm Cristobal. The scales for the final weigh-in will close at 8 p.m. on Saturday, June 13, at the Point Cadet Marina.

Test Case - Posted: Thursday, May 21, 2020 1:39 PM
The Orange Beach Billfish Classic has always held the distinction as the season’s first major big-game tournament in the central Gulf. For 2020, this event had even more significance as it was the first held during the COVID-19 pandemic. The required health restrictions because of the virus didn’t diminish the outcome. Thirty-one boats from Texas to Florida participated in the “social distancing” contest, which is based at The Wharf Marina in Orange Beach, Alabama. The original start date was pushed back a couple days for more favorable weather offshore.

By the time the scales closed Tuesday evening, Pearl had boated the only weighed blue marlin. The 603.2-pound fish was brought in the previous night. The catch and release action was steady, though. Born 2 Run, a regular contender on the Triple Crown circuit, earned first place honors in the release division. The 72 Viking is owned by Dana and Lisa Foster of Pensacola. Capt. Myles Colley is the boat’s skipper. Second Wind and Restless were named the second- and third-place winners, respectively, in the release division.

Game fish were hungry on the blue-water rips. Triple-digit tuna were weighed by You Never Know! (162.6) and Code Blue (148.2 and 131.4). Code Blue also took first place in the dolphin category with a 42.6-pound bull. Restless, rounded out the field with the other two division places. Restless also took home the top prize for a 47.6-pound wahoo, with CE and Fins Up weighing wahoo entries as well.

“People were very understanding and cooperative,” said Tournament Director Kate Dorland afterwards. “Everybody was happy and glad to be fishing.”

In keeping with its charitable mission, the OBBC will make a donation to The Billfish Foundation with proceeds from the 2020 tournament.

The Orange Beach Billfish Classic is one of six sanctioned events in the prestigious Gulf Coast Triple Crown Championship. The series is sponsored by Grander Marine and Invincible Boats. The competition now shifts westward as the Cajun Canyon Billfish Classic gets underway May 26-31, at the Cypress Cove Marina and Lodge in Venice, Louisiana.