In the historic South, the phrase high cotton meant the crops were doing well and so were the harvest prices. Over the years the expression has morphed to simply being successful. So it was only appropriate that High Cotton, the 92 Viking from Katy, Texas, owned by Pete Bell, brought the largest blue marlin to the ECBC scales Saturday night. Angler Cliff Mountain outlasted the 681-pound blue after a slugfest spanning seven hours on 130-class tackle.
“We were near the Atlantis area and that fish ate a live blackfin [tuna],” explained Capt. Allan Legge. Legge has been fishing the Classic for 13 years. “It was an epic show, jumping, the whole works. She drug us away from the rig two or three miles before she died and we had to winch her in. We hooked up at 7:45 and put her in the cockpit at 3. Last night it was rough as crap and really tiring. But that was the only marlin we saw.”
“I’m so sore tonight I can hardly move,” Mountain said as he made his way slowly down the dock behind the fish cart. “But there are no breaks in marlin fishing.” High Cotton’s blue measured 122.5 inches from the lower jaw to the fork of the tail and had a girth of 63 in the middle. It immediately vaulted to the top of the marlin leaderboard, where it remained the rest of the night.
Angler Josh Tice on his boat Devotion, a 61 Viking based in Orange Beach, put his team in second place with a 472.2-pound blue. That fish also ate a live blackfin tuna near the Thunderhawk Rig and was boated after a two hour and 10 minute fight.
“I’ve been fishing the Classic and other Gulf tournaments for 22 years as a mate, but this is the first time on my boat,” Tice explained. “As I was fighting it I just wanted to get it close enough. It was the only blue marlin bite we had all weekend. We knew it was long enough so we wanted to boat it.”
Briar Patch, a 68 Viking from Destin, filled out the marlin weight category with a 411.7-pound entry, wound in by angler Jarret Johnson in 38 minutes. The team was fishing to the east. Johnson said it was beautiful Thursday and Friday, but they were contending with 4- to 6-foot seas Saturday morning.
The pace at the scales was quick despite 88 boats competing. With the Baytowne Marina’s new dock additions, accessibility to the inner bulkhead was tricky for the larger sportfishers requiring more draft. So marlin were offloaded by boom at the fuel dock while other boats returned to their slips, where the game fish were carted to the scales.
Wahoo were hoisted aloft by Weigh master Jack Teschel with regularity, often topping the previous poundage. David Durden/Ramble On (67 Billy Holton) came in first with his ‘hoo weighing 79.7 pounds. Sam Haley was close behind with a 74.5-pound fish. Haley was competing on Skin Deep, a 63 Ricky Scarborough. Taylor Morrisette rounded out the field with a 67.6-pound entry, competing on Rascal, a 65 Hatteras GT.
In the dolphin division, Ronald Thomas on Bandito, a 68 Jim Smith, boated a 35.9-pound bull to take top honors. William Hackney, fishing aboard Garfin, a 37 Sea Hunter, claimed second and third place with fish weighing 31.5 and 27.1 pounds.
Thirteen fat tuna slimed the scales on Saturday; many would have been contenders in previous years. But for the 19th annual edition, Robert Burroughs, fishing on his 70 Viking Quick Time, shattered the previous ECBC tuna record (198.8) by more than 30 pounds. His 231.1-pound yellowfin was whipped in 20 minutes on 80-class tackle. The team raced 120 miles to make it back by the 6 pm deadline after it ate a live 9.5-pound blackfin tuna.
“I locked it up and never let him get his head,” Burroughs explained. “We put the pins to the firewall to make it back in time.” The previous tuna mark was set in 2016.
Release videos were still being reviewed but the unofficial leaders were Breathe Easy (72 Viking), Breathe Reel Deep (52 Ocean) and Wynsong (66 Viking) on time.
With $1.97 million in prize money to be distributed at Sunday’s awards brunch, it’ll be pickin’ time, with High Cotton leading the parade to the stage.