Looking Back

looking back

Another fishing season has come and gone as we head into the 2018 tournament scene. Let’s take a look back at last year and even the beginning of this year and see what (and who) stands out.  2017 proved to be another fantastic year of fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. We did not see the size of fish that we have in previous years as only one fish over the 700 pound mark was weighed. That 771 pound fish was caught on Rocky Jones’ “Reel Addiction” during the Pensacola International Billfish Tournament.

Of the Triple Crown sanctioned tournaments (keeping in mind that Cajun Canyons was cancelled due to weather), the mean average of all fish that took first place was 535.65 pounds. Rewind two years back to 2016, and the mean average of all the first place fish for these same tournaments was 731 pounds! Hopefully we will see an uptick this year in the weight department. As far as numbers go, we are now catching more blue marlin than ever before. We are seeing larger boats with increased speed and range allowing access to previously inaccessible fishing grounds.  

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In addition, Gulf of Mexico tournament fleet crews are becoming some of the most proficient in the world at live baiting blue marlin. We are now in an era in which an average of four blue marlin is required to win a Catch and Release division.    

Every year we have new boats come onto the tournament scene and last year was no exception. The sport of billfishing continually evolves as crews strive to become the best and the excitement of new competition pushes us all to up our game. Last year we saw a new boat come onto the tournament trail, Bob Lyon’s 62 foot Viking “Lyon’s Pride”. They took first place blue marlin in the Orange Beach Billfish Classic with a 431 pound fish. Rocky Jones’ crew aboard his 56 foot Viking “Reel Addiction” took top honors in the release division with 3 blue marlin releases. Long time and faithful Orange Beach Billfish Classic participant Ronald Davis with his family and crew aboard “Sea Mixer” caught a 388 pound fish that was good for 2nd place. Ronald is a supporter of our tournament and conservation and we thank him. 

The 70 foot Viking “Done Deal” put the Gulf of Mexico blue marlin fishery on the international stage last year as they won Robert “Fly” Navarro’s Blue Marlin World Cup. Owner Jon Gonsoulin’s team scaled a 600 pound fish to beat out the rest of the world’s top fisheries and boats on that day. They also caught a 502 pound bluefin tuna in the Orange Beach Billfish Classic. Congratulations to them on a great year. During the World Cup, another one our tournament regulars, “Reel Fire” owned by Chris Ferrara, released 4 blue marlin in a span of 5 hours. That is good fishing for anywhere in the world! Fly is a friend and supporter of the Orange Beach Billfish Classic, and we hope to see more of our top boats fish his World Cup tournament to put our incredible blue marlin fishery in the international spotlight.

Another one of our tournament participants, Matt McDonald’s “Breathe Easy”, started out with a bang this year by catching and weighing a 611 pound bluefin tuna. With Auburn football legend and Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson aboard, the 68 foot Viking went south of Orange Beach to a drill ship to live bait for blue marlin. They got the bite on a 50 wide and Bo Jackson was in for a 2 hour fight to land this bluefin tuna. At the time of this article, that fish is part of our allotted 3,000 pounds that we are allowed to harvest by incidental catch in the Gulf of Mexico this year. With 2,389 pounds left to go, hopefully some of our participants will be able to catch and weigh one of these incredible fish.

The Orange Beach Billfish Classic is dedicated to supporting The Billfish Foundation headed by Ellen Peel who, with her staff, secured a modification of the bluefin allocation for recreational fishing. This was the first time an allocation was specifically designated for the Gulf.  If not for The Billfish Foundation getting this done  the quota would likely be reached on the east coast before the fish ever even get here to the Gulf of Mexico. To catch one of these fish is very rare, so we should cherish the fact that we have the right to harvest a few of them every year.  It is very important to give to the organization that works to preserve our right to sportfish.

Long time Orange Beach Billfish Classic participant “Mollie” had a great 2017 season. Captain Jeff Shoults and his crew won the Gulf Coast Triple Crown Championship, bringing the trophy to Destin, Florida for the first time in the history of the series. They had the trip of a lifetime last year down at Bobby Carter’s Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic. They released 4 blue marlin on the first day in Green Canyon, 3 on live bait and one on a lure.


The next morning they woke up in Mississippi Canyon at the Medusa platform. The porpoises chased everyone away on the previous day so nobody was able live bait at that oil rig. The “Mollie” put their baits out at first light and got the big bite, catching a 654 pound blue marlin. The stars lined up for them by catching the 4 smaller marlin on the first day and catching the biggest one last. They finished that tournament winning first place in the catch and release division and took second place in the kill division. The points they earned were enough to propel them ahead of the rest of the fleet, ultimately securing their win of the Triple Crown. Congratulations to the “Mollie” and crew.

So here we are on the cusp of this tournament season. It’s exciting, it’s challenging, and it’s just plain fun. It is our hope that all of our teams stay safe, fish hard, and make 2018 another memorable year here on the Gulf coast. From all of us at the Orange Beach Billfish Classic, we hope that everyone has a great 2018 season. Cheers to big fish and calm seas!