25 Years: A New Milestone

A new milestone

The year was 1995. A group of four Mobile businessmen with a passion and love for fishing got together to form a tournament for the express purpose of raising money to give back to conservation. Johnny Dorland, Manning McPhillips Jr, Harry Childers and Clifton Morrissette had a vision. They wanted to start up a billfish tournament to raise money for the CCA (Coastal Conservation Association). This vision, like all visions, came with many obstacles to overcome; a tournament format with appeal and uniqueness had to be established, sponsors were needed to help promote the tournament and bring the tournament’s mission statement into the public eye and the tournament needed a home. Volunteers were needed to do all of the footwork that it takes to put on a tournament. A good weekend had to be picked out that did not coincide with any other existing tournaments. And most importantly, a lot of phone calls and in-person visits with boat owners had to be made so that some boats would show up fish!

The newly formed tournament committee was able to pool their connections and resources to kick off the inaugural Orange Beach Billfish Classic in 1996. Orange Beach Marina owner Earle Long agreed to let the committee host the event out of his facility. The second weekend of August was selected as the time to have the tournament. A new payout format was implemented that would pay tournament money to the catch and release winners, along with the kill division winners. Saunders Yacht Works and Sonny Middleton with Middleton Marine jumped on board as the two major tournament sponsors to help create energy around the tournament. Volunteers came forward and committed themselves to help with the effort. These men and women would prove to be very instrumental for the tournament to survive. Kenny Vines, affectionately known as “KV”, opted for the MC position.

There was never a better man for the job than him; he knew the crews, the owners, and had a charisma about him that everyone loved. He could hype up the most unproductive boat in the fleet and make them feel like champions when they backed in to weigh a 17 lb. dolphin! Tim Jones was very hands on with the effort and would jump in and help wherever needed. Scott Cooper got behind the tournament and helped with promotion. He is also one of the few that has participated in the tournament from inception. Orange Beach Marina Harbormaster Jimmy Beason was very helpful in getting the marina prepped and ready to host a tournament. Sarah Armstrong jumped in and offered a helping hand wherever needed. These men and women worked hard to make this tournament a pleasurable experience for the participants so they would come back and fish again; and did so all in the name of charity for conservation.

Local Charter boats, many of which were owned and operated by close friends in the fishing
community, rounded up charters to come fish the tournament. In the beginning these guys made up a sizeable portion of the fleet. I’m sure that those of you who have been around long enough remember “Resmondo Row”. In those days, a blue marlin only had to be 99 inches long to bring back to the dock and there were several years where there was not a qualifying fish caught! One of the funniest memories that I have looking back was at the first captain’s meeting conducted by Johnny Dorland.

Seeing as how the tournament was paying money to the catch and release winners, Johnny informed the room that each boat had to have a camcorder to record their releases and include a designator (which was a very Auburn themed orange and blue ribbon tied to the end of the tag stick) and GPS time and date. Fish had to be tagged to qualify for release. Would you believe that there were some eruptions in the room?! Grown men were getting all worked up because they did not own or know how to operate a video recorder. Johnny held his ground and told those that were whining about it to get there a**es in their truck, drive to Walgreens and get one! I will not claim this as an indisputable fact, but I would strongly wager that the Orange Beach Billfish Classic is the first tournament to require video verification for catch and release.

Change is the only constant we have in life, and that has certainly been the case for the life of the Orange Beach Billfish Classic. The Wharf has hosted the OBBC since 2013 and the date was changed from August to May. Throughout the years we have implemented numerous modifications to the format (including a brief stint in which we were strictly a release tournament), and changed which organizations receive our donation. Since the inception of the OBBC we have donated close to $800,000.00 to marine conservation. We currently donate exclusively to The Billfish Foundation (TBF) so that they may keep up the fight to see that our spawning zones and nurseries in the Gulf of Mexico that we recreationally fish stay closed to commercial fishing. This, along with securing the only recreational fishing incidental allocation of Bluefin Tuna in the Gulf of Mexico, are just a few examples of what TBF accomplishes with our help.

The industry as a whole has seen major changes over the last 25 years, from the companies involved with sponsoring our events, the boats we fish on, the names and faces, all the way down to how we fish for blue marlin. One thing that our tournament will not change is to strive to give back to the resource that gives to us; our mother ocean. The Orange Beach Billfish Classic is now solely owned and operated by the Dorlands, a family that puts an emphasis on catering to participants because unlike many tournament owners, we are participants ourselves. Cheers to the last 25 years of fishing, and we look forward to 25 more!