AJ's Big Mac Classic hauls in big fish and big money for Ronald McDonald House Charities

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

Fishermen weren’t the only winners in the AJ’s Big Mac Classic held over the weekend in Destin. The 12th annual fishing tournament raised more than $40,000 for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northwest Florida. 

“And we still have people donating money,” said Jerry Andrews, tournament director and a big supporter of the Ronald McDonald House. 

“We’ve got the whole Destin Fishing Rodeo to go, which really helps,” he said. 

The crew from the Ray Marine/Strike Two show off their king mackerel in the AJ's Big Mac Classic. Kelly Lupola had the winning king at 48.8 pounds.

Boat captains in the Rodeo can enter the Big Mac Daily for $100 and the captain with the largest mackerel each day wins $100. 

Last year, the Big Mac Classic at AJ’s was the only fundraiser for the Ronald McDonald House because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Andrews said they raised $53,000. 

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And so far, things are looking up for this year. 

Seventeen boats fished the two-day tournament and brought in 25 king mackerel. 

Ray Marine/Strike Two with Capt. Rob Lupola and angler Kelly Lupola took top honors with a 48.8-pound king. 

“Ray Marine always brings in a good one,” Andrews said, noting that it was the last to weigh in a fish Sunday afternoon. 

“This is two years in a row that they have won it. ... They fish hard,” Andrews said. 

Placing second was William Sexton Jr. with a 39.8-pounder caught aboard the SS Mullet with his father, William Sexton, on Saturday.  

Capt. Sexton said there were a lot of king mackerel to be had and were going back out on Sunday. 

William Sexton Jr. shows off his second-place king mackerel, 39.8 pounds, caught on Saturday aboard the SS Mullet with his father, William Sexton.

Placing third was Tyler Miller on the Wired Up with Capt. Doug Lambert with a 39-pounder. The Wired Up was the first boat to weigh in on Saturday. 

In addition to the mackerel, the tournament also had a few Calcutta divisions.  

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Chip Sanders on the Deep Sea Fishing brought in the largest wahoo at 48.6 pounds. 

Renee Bullard fishing aboard the Rock Sand had the biggest dolphin at 26.8 pounds. She also had the largest blackfin tuna at 20.2 pounds. 

Bullard weighed in the dolphin on Saturday, along with a 35.2-pound wahoo. 

“The dolphin pulled the hardest,” she said. 

The crew aboard the Wired Up took third place with this 39-pound king mackerel caught by Tyler Miller. They were the first to weigh in on Saturday.

Several of the boats donated their fish to the tournament.  

“In the past we have given it to needy families … just trying make sure everybody has something on the plate,” Andrews said. 

This year, a group of Wounded Warriors came in from a fishing trip on the docks Sunday and the tournament donated a lot of the fish to them. 

“We made sure they all went home with some fish,” Andrews said. 

“The tournament was absolutely a success and a successful day for the Ronald McDonald House,” Andrews said. 

“It’s everybody’s house. It belongs to me and you and everybody else that lives in Okaloosa and Walton,” he added. 

Renee Bullard landed this 26.8-pounder to win the dolphin category of the Big Mac Classic at AJ's Seafood and Oyster Bar during the weekend. She was fishing with Capt. Royce Dahnke, left of the fish, on the Rock Sand.

The Ronald McDonald House provides a place for families with sick children to stay near the hospital where they are receiving medical care. 

“Okaloosa is the No. 1 user of the facility, Bay County is No. 2 and Walton 3,” Andrews said. 

“People know how important the house is, and I hope none of my friends need it. But if they do, it’s going to be there waiting,” he said.