Sunday night couldn’t come soon enough for Nick Pratt and the crew aboard It Just Takes Time, a 62 Viking based in Orange Beach, Alabama. After weighing a 574-pound blue marlin on Saturday night, the crew had to wait it out to see if any other qualifiers would make it to the scales Sunday. None did. As a result, the team swept the blue marlin division, multiple optional entries and won the 2019 Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic, earning $596,025. That single team payout is the new ECBC record and one of the largest ever for a Gulf big-game fishing tournament. A total of 80 boats competed in this year’s 17th annual event, with the overall cash purse topping $1.86 million.

“There are a lot of good boats in this fleet,” Pratt said at the awards ceremony at the Baytowne Marina. Pratt was the angler on the fish and also owns It Just Takes Time. It was the first marlin caught on the new boat and only the second blue he’s landed. “So we were very nervous today. We spent it fishing and actually released a blue and caught a dolphin. But everyone was clock-watching.” Capt. Chris Hood was at the helm during the fight, with mates Boone and Donnie Shear in the cockpit. Chapman Cook and Brandon Myer were the other anglers.

“We’re very fired up. Winning this kind of money is a once-in-a-lifetime event,” Pratt added. “But I always believe in bet big to win big. This is the best week, by far, I’ve ever spent fishing and the ECBC is the greatest tournament ever!”

There was plenty of action in the billfish release division. Past ECBC champion Done Deal, with Katie Gonsoulin in the chair and Capt. Jason Buck on the bridge, won Top Release Angler, Top Lady Angler and Second Place Release Boat by letting three blues swim away. With optional entries, the team is taking home $163,939. Done Deal is a 70 Viking based in Houma, Louisiana and a perennial contender on the Gulf blue-water circuit. Capt. Clayt James and his crew aboard Chasin Tail, an 80 Weaver Boat Works, claimed top honors in the Release Division, also with three blues on time, for an impressive $229,145 payout. Southern Charm, a 63 Hatteras run by Capt. Bo Keough, was the third-place release team with two blues credited ($75,980).

Jeff Cultan and Triple Threat (Capt. Chilli Willams) cranked in the largest tuna for the week, a 167.5-pound yellowfin. That catch earned the team a $126,310 payday. Capt. Cricket Crochet, Christa Forrester and the anglers aboard Restless boated the second-largest tuna at 157.2 pounds, worth $47,872. Hunter Ryan, Capt. Bennie Goldman and Reelentless took third-place tuna honors with a 148.2-pounder, good for a $90,497 check.

Local team Mollie, with Capt. Jeff Shoults on the throttles, boated the largest of many dolphin weighed in Sunday. Mollie’s fish, caught by Hugh Flanagan, tipped the scales at 44.8 pounds, paying $25,600. Phen-Syn (Capt. Hall Bohlinger) and Arti Davenport whipped a 40.6 pound dolphin, which won $51,540, while Dennis Pasentine, Capt. Robbie Doggett and the team aboard Relentless Pursuit pulled a 40.5-pound bull off a weed line to earn $127,015 with optional entries.

No monster wahoo came to the scales, but the top three fish still were nice money-makers. Captain/angler Kirk Ogren whipped the biggest at 55.8 pounds for $25,600 aboard Pair-A-Dice. Capt. Dusty Parrish, angler Chris Patroni and the Ultimate Lure crew earned second place honors and $23,550 for a 49.4-pound fish. Sage Mount, Capt. Dylan Gandy and the buddy team fishing on Dream’s Wake IV, a Yellowfin 36 center console, landed the third biggest ‘hoo at 42.9 pounds, for a $10,240 consolation prize.

In the unofficial “It Pays to Play” category, Squid Row took home a check for $84,285 for a 24.9-pound wahoo in a perfect example of why entering optional jackpot divisions can be so lucrative.

Jackson Moore, fishing on Buggy Washer, was named the top Junior Angler—Billfish by releasing a blue marlin. Logan “Mule” Reeder earned top Junior Angler—Game Fish honors by whipping three dolphin weighing 86.1 pounds. Reeder was competing on Cotton Patch, another previous ECBC tournament champion.

“The week started out crazy thanks to the weather,” said Tournament Director Adam Alfonso. “But it all worked out and another successful ECBC is in the books. Congratulations to the It Just Takes Time team and all the other winners. I’d like to express my gratitude to the entire fleet for participating and our wonderful sponsors for their incredible support. My fantastic staff and I look forward to welcoming everyone back next June for our 18th season of exciting big-game tournament action here at the Emerald Coast.”