Country artist Kenny Chesney was crooning about the fast pace of life when he recorded the hit single Don’t Blink in 2007. But if that water-loving troubadour had been at the Baytowne Marina weigh station Sunday evening, he would have found inspiration for yet another top song. That’s because even with a reduced fleet, the 36 boats competing this year put on a display that rivals any in the tournament’s 15-year history.

Don’t Blink, a 56 Viking, was the first in the spotlight. Angler Bill Horn hoisted his 67.5-pound wahoo aloft to score the first-place slot. Next was 68-year-old Mike Hickey of Destin. Hickey outlasted a 553-pound blue marlin after a 4.5-hour fight to capture the top prize in the marlin division. That fish ate a medium ballyhoo skirted by a blue and white Islander lure at Lloyd’s Ridge, about 165 miles south of Destin. It was the first blue caught on Don’t Blink and Hickey’s first marlin recorded in the ECBC.

“That blue came out of the blue for an open-water bite,” Hickey says. “It was a brutal fight, the longest four hours of my life. I had to muscle the line back an inch at a time. If it hadn’t been for my crew, I would have given up. But it was absolutely beautiful out there, with smooth seas and clear skies.”

Teenage Blues

Tournament Control had gotten word earlier Sunday that Team Supreme had boated another big blue. So the packed crowd was straining at the barricades as the “fish monkey” handlers floated the big blue up the ramp and to the gantry. Sixteen-year-old Alex Krake, also of Destin, waited as Weigh master Jack Teschel readied the scales.

“551 pounds” was the announced verdict. The look on Krake’s young face conveyed the disappointment, although genuine sportsmanship immediately replaced it.

“We hooked the fish about 9 and only had about 10 minutes to spare before we had to head back in when we finally boated it,” Krake says. “We had it on the wire 10 times before we were finally able to sink a gaff. My shoulders hurt and my legs hurt. I’m a little sad—we all thought it was bigger. It is what it is though, and I can’t do anything about it. But that was my biggest marlin so I’m OK.”

Tuna Tango

The tuna battle was another one settled by mere pounds. Chris Crosby on Black Tip only took 10 minutes to whip his 142.9-pound bigeye on 130-class tackle. The 61 Buddy Davis from Key West was fishing northeast of the drill ship Proteus when that fish ate a live hardtail offering.

Dana Foster, owner of Born2Run, usually focuses on marlin, but the Pensacola angler took a brief detour to land the largest tuna of the weekend, a yellowfin weighing 169 pounds. The sickle-finned monster couldn’t resist Foster’s favorite Air Force One blue/pink lure trolled 140 miles southwest of Destin Pass along a rip loaded with other bait.

Chad Postle, on Breathe Easy, boated the other bigeye registered this year, a 142.3-pounder, which was good for third place. Several other tuna in the 100-pound-plus class were weighed by the fleet. Out of the 36 boats that fished, 28 weighed entries this year.

Dolphin Duel

Pulling Wire captured the second-largest wahoo at 48.5 pounds, followed by Get Reel at 44.2 pounds. Only two dolphin met the 20-pound minimum weight requirement. Breathe Easy took first-place honors with a 27.9-pound bull, while Emerald Grande came in second with a 26.7-pound dolphin.

The catch and release points are still being verified. A total of nearly $625,000 in cash prizes will be announced at the awards brunch Monday morning at the Sandestin Grand ballroom at 10 a.m.