SANDESTIN — When the three red digits flashed above the Baytowne Marina docks in Sandestin on Sunday evening, a collective sigh was let out from the hundreds of spectators on hand for the 2017 Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic.
Then whispers. How much did that other blue marlin weigh?
A tournament emcee quickly answered. The earlier haul: 553 pounds.
Twenty-four boats came ashore Sunday during the final day of the ECBC, and in one of the closest competitions in tournament history angler Mike Hickey won the blue marlin division by two pounds.
“It will definitely be a year to remember, especially with the two blue marlin within two pounds of each other,” tournament director Adam Alfonso said. “We’re just really excited that we got to put on a tournament.
“A big thank you to the boats and fans that stuck it out even with the weather. Everyone had a great time.”
Hickey, 68 years young, beat 16-year-old Alex Krake in the premier division of the area’s top fishing tournament.
• 553 pounds, Mike Hickey, Don’t Blink ($54,432)
• 551 pounds, Alex Krake, Team Supreme ($31,968)
• 169 pounds, Dana Foster, Born 2 Run ($9,600)
• 142.9 pounds, Chris Crosby, Black Tip ($5,760)
• 142.3, Chad Postle, Breathe Easy ($3,840)
• 67.5 pounds, Bill Horn, Don’t Blink ($9,600)
• 48.5 pounds, John Griffin, Pullin’ Wire ($5,760)
• 44.2 pounds, Wes Carpenter, Get Reel ($3,840)
• 27.9 pounds, Chad Postle, Breathe Easy ($9,600)
• 26.7 pounds, Justin Guidry, Emerald Grande ($5,760)
It took Hickey four hours and 15 minutes to reel in the haul, a battle that began at 5:08 p.m. Saturday about 165 miles south of the Emerald Coast.
When Hickey first saw the blue marlin jump, he didn’t think it was the fish on his line because it was about 850 yards away. But it was, and Hickey reeled it in one inch at a time for the last hour and 45 minutes.
“One crank at a time,” he said. “It was brutal. It was the longest four hours of my life.”
At the other end of the spectrum was 10-year-old Clark Adams, a Destin Elementary student who at one point held third place in the wahoo category with a 36.3-pound haul.
At 6:30 p.m., Steve Scott aboard Melanie came in to weigh what was then a first-place tuna.
Scott just so happened to be the first angler to fish the morning shift when the fish bit at 7 a.m. Saturday morning.
“It’s my first yellowfin tuna, so I’m proud of that,” Scott said of the haul that took about a half hour to reel in. “We had a good time. And it took the whole crew to get it. It wasn’t just a one-man show. Everyone did their job and everything went well.
“I was just the lucky one to get to reel it in.”
Around 7 p.m., Team Supreme brought in Krake’s blue marlin contender.
“We realized how big it was about 20 minutes in,” Krake said. “We got him up on the wire probably about 10 times and finally, we had about 10 minutes left, I gave it all I had, he came up belly up and we stuck him.”
The 16-year-old rewarded himself a nap.
But the highlight of the day was Hickey’s blue marlin.
“I’m retiring from the chair,” he said. “I don’t think I can do it again.”