Gulf water temperatures are rising and so is the adrenaline level for the 16th annual Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic.

One of the most popular stops on the competitive Gulf of Mexico big-game circuit, the ECBC is hosted by the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort and presented by Wind Creek Casino & Hotel-Atmore, Alabama. With the kick-off just days away, more than 80 boats have pre-registered. The final field is expected to be 90 boats, which would establish a new tournament benchmark.

“We’re on target to surpass our previous record number of 85 boats,” said Adam Alfonso, tournament and activities director for the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort. “Our goal is 90 boats and all will enjoy some of the best big-game fishing in the world. The stakes will be high, but these teams are up to the challenge and I’m confident we’ll have some trophy-winning fish coming to the scales.”

In the last two or three weeks, some of Destin’s finest have been fishing the big-game circuit and bringing in some big marlin.

A couple of weekends ago, Capt. Allen Staples on the Wynsong, based out of Destin, won the Cajun Canyons Billfish Classic out of Louisiana with a 699.3-pound blue marlin. They also won the catch and release, with three blue marlin released and placed first in the yellowfin tuna division with a 156.4-pounder.

Last weekend they fished the Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic out of Biloxi, Mississippi and placed fourth in catch and release.

“The fishing has been OK,” Staples said.

However, he said the boats are going to have to travel to find the big ones.

“There’s not going to be any stay inshore … they’re going to have to go long or longer,” Staples said, noting a push of green water in the last few days.

Nevertheless, he said, “There’s some good fish around.”

And Staples and crew are going to give it their best shot.

“We’re not going to roll over. We’re going to go find one hopefully,” Staples said.

Capt. Jason Hallmark of the Black Sheep has also been in the winner circle in recent weeks as well as a past trip to the ECBC winner circle.

“The fishing has been really good,” Hallmark said.

About three weeks ago, Hallmark and crew pulled in a 513.4-pound blue marlin to place third in the Orange Beach Billfish Classic. And in 2016, Hallmark, then captain of the Rise Up, took first place in the ECBC with an 838.2-pound blue marlin.

Last week at Biloxi, Hallmark and crew caught some yellowfin tuna, but no marlin.

“I think we over ran them,” he said, noting they went further out than usual (300 miles) trying to get away from other boats.

However, he thinks their chances at the ECBC are good.

“We’ve always got a good chance,” Hallmark said.

The 2018 edition of the ECBC marks another strong commitment to the sport and marine conservation. In cooperation with the other Gulf Coast Triple Crown Championship events, the new minimum length requirement to weigh a blue marlin will be 107 inches. The federal minimum is 99 inches. The specified length is measured from the tip of the fish’s lower jaw to the fork of the tail. This increase will help conserve smaller marlin, boost the release division stakes and mean only blue marlin exceeding several hundred pounds will be weighed at Baytowne Marina located inside the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort.

“The ECBC has supported conservation and this sport since its inception and the new 107-inch minimum puts an exclamation point on that commitment,” Alfonso said. “Juvenile marlin will still be swimming to be caught again, plus we always have huge game fish atop the leaderboard. The teams fishing the ECBC are the best and they surprise us with a few exceptional catches every year.”

In addition to the blue marlin weight division, smaller blues, white marlin, sailfish and spearfish that are successfully released earn points in the competitive release division. Yellowfin, bigeye and blackfin tuna, wahoo and dolphin are scored one point per pound.

The ECBC attracts multi-million dollar sport-fishing boats from across the Gulf of Mexico as well as the southeastern United States. Fishing begins after Thursday, June 21’s noon blast-off from Destin's East Pass and concludes Saturday, June 23. Eligible fish are weighed Friday and Saturday evenings. Viewing is free and open to the public.

Even though the night-time weigh-ins are definite crowd-pleasers, the festivities begin long before the boats leave the dock. Hancock Whitney will present the ECBC Golf Scramble, which is open to participants and sponsors. Tee-time is 9 a.m. at the Raven Golf Club in Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort on Tuesday, June 19.

Wind Creek Casino & Hotel-Atmore, Alabama, the presenting sponsor, will be hosting a mock gaming room in the Magnolia Ballroom of the Grand Sandestin during the registration and kick-off party with lots of great prize packages. Other special activities for anglers and their guests during the week are being finalized.

The 2018 Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic runs June 20-24 at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort. For registration, dockage, rules and schedule of events, visit www.fishecbc.com.

Log reporter Tina Harbuck contributed to this article.