by Troy Gilbert
In a span of just 11 years the Florida Panhandle has seen one of its fishing tournaments grow into one of the highest ranked Big Money Fishing Tournaments: the Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic. This month an expected 85-plus boats from all across the Northern Gulf Coast will head out from Destin into the deep waters of the Gulf and angle to land $1.5 million in cash awards as well as some monster fish. Running June 18-22 and hosted by the Sandestin Resor and the Baytowne Marina, anglers will target tuna, sailfish, dolphin, wahoo, and, of course, blue marlin. Part of the Gulf Coast Triple Crown Championship with tournaments in Biloxi, Mississippi (June 2-8), and Orange Beach, Alabama (July 8-13), the Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic is the largest of the events. Together they form a circuit for tournament fishing with one team crowned overall champion. Each tournament also holds junior and ladies’ divisions, and the public is welcome to attend nightly dockside weigh-ins.
The largest purse for the Emerald Coast Classic was $437,000—paid out in 2008 to one team from Louisiana for their First Place 406-pound marlin and 145-pound tuna. The tournament record for blue marlin was set in 2012 when a crew out of Fairhope, Alabama—fishing from a 56-foot Viking—hauled in a 783-pound monster.