Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And Team Reel Worthless is red-hot right now after winning big in its third major Gulf tournament this season. Angler Steve Brown and his team again combined with the Reel Fuelish crew to land the biggest—and only—blue marlin of the 2014 Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic. That 594.0-pound fish was worth an ECBC record payout of $498,450, topping the previous mark set by Up To It in 2008 by more than $61,000. Reel Worthless swept the marlin division, top crew and all but one of the optional jackpot entries to claim the biggest share of the overall $1.68 million in prize money. The team has dealt with its share of adversity this season, however.
Earlier this month, just before the start of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic, Reel Worthless, a 64 Viking, caught fire in the marina and was damaged beyond fishability. The despondent crew was resigned to being shut out, but when the wife of owner Johnny Johnson urged them to fish anyway, another boat was lined up. The combined crews fished aboard Reel Fuelish, a 60 Sculley home-ported in Perdido Key, Florida, and landed the third-largest marlin in the MGCBC, earning a sizable payout. And that momentum certainly carried forward this week.
“I felt like our fish would place for sure,” Johnson said at the Sunday awards brunch at the host facility, Sandestin® Golf and Beach Resort. “But I had no idea it would be the only one brought in. That’s what made it so special. Reel Fuelish has been a super host and when we combined our teams it’s been great for everybody. These are some of the best fishermen in the world we’re competing against, so it’s a very meaningful win.”
In addition to blue marlin, eligible species in the ECBC include tuna, dolphin and wahoo, and these game fish categories resulted in stiff competition. The leader board in each division changed constantly throughout Saturday night as more than half of the overall 77-boat fleet brought in fish to weigh. Besides tournament cash prizes for the largest fish, teams can enter optional jackpots at various levels, in effect betting on themselves to claim a share of the overall purse.
Angler Chris Crosby brought in the largest tuna, a yellowfin tipping the scales at 131.9 pounds. Crosby was fishing aboard Black Tip, a 61 Buddy Davis based in Key West, Florida. Capt. Mark “Sparky” McCann is the boat’s skipper. With the team and jackpot totals combined, Crosby & Co. are taking home a check for $167,011. Truitte Jackson, fishing on Annie Girl with Capt. Mike Rowell at the helm, whipped a 110.7-pound yellowfin in about 10 minutes to claim second place. That catch earned the team a $73,303 payday. Perennial tuna killer Cory Racca boated a 105.3-pound yellowfin to earn $44,792 for Freak on a Leash, with Jon Mitchell as captain.
ReHab brought in the top dolphin, a 48.2-pounder landed by Tim Howard. ReHab, a 65 Hatteras run by Capt. Hall Bohlinger, earned a check totaling $145,411. Destin-based Sea Wolff, run by Capt. Keith Quick, guided John Parker to his 47.4 dolphin. That fish, along with crew, jackpot and release points, was worth a combined $128,526. In a strange twist, Edwin “Wahoo” Bustos Alvarado claimed third-place honors in the dolphin category. His 46.6-pound bull earned a $39,392 payout for the Marlin Darlin’ crew. Capt. Chris Clark is the skipper.
Sherry Polk, fishing aboard Share-E, a 76 Viking with Capt. Kevin Frelich on the throttles, scored the largest wahoo, a 68.4-pound speedster. That fish was worth $59,936. John Pasentine and Capt. Robbie Doggett landed a 63.6-pound wahoo on Relentless Pursuit, a 95 Jim Smith custom battlewagon. The team pocketed $66,812 for its efforts. Capt. Mike Davis and angler Al Ricker combined efforts on Bloodsport, whipping a 63.1 wahoo for a $15,261 prize. Caboom and A-Team also earned jackpot checks for their wahoo.
Past ECBC champion Done Deal, a 70 Viking run by Capt. Jason Buck, showed its prowess by claiming the top prizes in the hotly-contested release division. After running hundreds of miles, the team released two blue marlin in short order to take team and jackpot categories. That extra effort earned owner John Gonsoulin and his team $252,662 and top lady honors for Kate Gonsoulin.
“It was two days of really slow fishing and 45 minutes of great fishing,” Buck recalled.
Sea Wolff came in second in the division with blue and white marlin releases, followed by Controlled Chaos, with Capt. Daniel Menard at the helm. Blue Smoker, Testing the Water and Big Gin also earned checks in the release jackpot categories. Drew Armstrong, fishing on Tar Baby, was the top junior angler with one white marlin release.