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18th Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic kicks off

Staff Reports
Northwest Florida Daily News

DESTIN — And they’re off!

The 18th annual Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic fishing tournament kicked off Thursday morning as some 80 registered fishing crews from across the southeast and elsewhere departed through Destin’s East Pass seeking fortune and glory in the Gulf of Mexico before the scales close at 10 p.m. Saturday.

Their ultimate goal? Catch the heaviest marlin, tuna, dolphin and wahoo they can find and collect a portion of more than $1 million up for grabs in cash prizes.

A year ago, angler Nick Pratt and the crew of It Just Takes Two brought the only blue marlin of the tournament back to Baytowne Marina; their 114-inch, 574-pound catch fetched them an ECBC record $596,000.

However, the massive Marlin still measured up short to 2017’s winner, a 699.2-pounder reeled in by Can’t Deny It, which itself is well short of the ECBC record-holder; in 2015, angler Lance Hill of Orange Beach, Alabama, and the crew of Cotton Patch hauled in a tournament 899.6-pound marlin.

Per tournament rules, eligible fish must be at least 110 inches long to qualify. That minimum is measured from the tip of the fish’s lower jaw to the fork of the tail. Qualifiers typically average 500 pounds or heavier.

In addition to the blue marlin weight category, smaller blues, white marlin, sailfish and spearfish that are successfully released earn points in the competitive release division. Releases are verified by video footage. Yellowfin, bigeye and blackfin tuna, wahoo and dolphin are scored one point per pound.

Although the fishing part of the ECBC is looking to be better than good, things at the scales will be a bit different due to COVID-19.

“We will be fully digital this year, so the tournament will be available to watch on Facebook Live, and will be broadcast on TV’s at the Marina Bar and Grill Sandestin, along with various restaurants within The Village at Baytowne Wharf,” said Sarah Salesses, social media and digital communications manager in an email to The Destin Log. “We want to give our community members the opportunity to watch the action, while making the social distancing choices that are best for them and their family.”