Big boats, big blues, big money on the line in 11th annual ECBC

Capt. Jeff Shoults of the Mollie has already pulled in three blue marlin this season.

Destin's Capt. Jeff Shoults and crew aboard the Mollie have already caught three blue marlin this season and are hoping to land another in the 11th annual Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort set to go June 19-23.

Shoults, who was fueling up his boat Thursday afternoon, said he caught two blue marlin in a Memorial weekend tournament and then a 402.2-pounder in the Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic last weekend. They also reeled in a 135.5-pound yellowfin tuna last weekend on the 66-foot G&S boat, to earn second place marlin team and crew awards.

"Fishing is good right now," Shoults said. "There's a lot of blue water offshore."

Although he had not yet registered for the ECBC he said he would, noting they haven't missed one.

"It's going to be fun if the weather holds," Shoults said. "And somebody will catch something big … hopefully it will be us."

Last year the winning blue marlin was brought in aboard the Done Deal with an Alabama crew and tilted the scales at 783.6 pounds.

The Blue Marlin Classic is the richest tournament on the Gulf having reached cash purses as high as $1.5 million and was ranked by Marlin magazine as the No. 5 big money tournament in the world. The ECBC is also a key stop for the World Billfish Series and the International Game Fish Association’s Offshore Championship.

Shoults is not the only Destin captain hoping to bring in that big fish.

Capt. Harold Staples who will be at the helm of the Wynsong, a 63-foot Bertram, says this is his third time to fish the tournament.

"The boys are cracking it," Staples said, noting he's heard of other local crews who have raised blue and white marlins in just the last few days.

"All indicators are good and the conditions are favorable," Staples said.

He said they would be targeting blue marlin; however, he said they want to catch whatever is "big in its species."

Eligible species in the ECBC include blue marlin, white marlin, sailfish, spearfish, tuna (blackfin, bigeye and yellowfin), dolphin and wahoo. All billfish are released except for blue marlin measuring more than 103 inches.

Capt. Mark Hanshaw of the Ms. Castle, a 66-foot Viking that dock's at Sandestin's Baytowne Marina, is set to fish the ECBC.

"I haven't been offshore yet, but I'm hearing it's good," said Hanshaw, a native Destinite.

"Close in they are already catching dolphin and wahoo and out at the rigs tuna and marlin. We'll be fishing for blue marlin unless something else great comes along. But we want the big blue marlin," he said.

Hanshaw said he likes to use little yellowfin tuna for bait; however, he'll also be dragging lures as well.

Tournament week at Sandestin offers something for everyone, from family activities, special events and sponsor exhibits to the weigh-ins at Baytowne Marina.

On Thursday between 3 and 4 p.m. the boats will pull out from Baytowne for fishing. The official start time of fishing is 4 p.m.

Weigh-in Friday will be from 4-9 p.m. at Baytowne. On Saturday, the final day, weigh-in is from 4-10 p.m. Teams wishing to weigh a fish must be under the Mid-Bay Bridge by 9 p.m. on both days.

The awards brunch is slated for 10 a.m. on Sunday at the Grand Ballroom.