The Triple Crown Story

Like many things on the northern Gulf Coast it was Sonny Middleton who came up with the original idea. It took almost ten years to develop The Gulf Coast Triple Crown (GCTC), but it was Sonny who envisioned the original idea of linking the major billfish tournaments in a championship series to promote offshore big game sport fishing and crown an overall "best of the best" . None of us at the beginning could have envisioned how popular the series would become.

Somewhat similar in concept to the chase points series in NASCAR, the GCTC tracks official points awarded to winners in each of the officially sanctioned big game tournaments beginning in May in Orange Beach, Alabama, traveling the tournament circuit through Biloxi, to Destin and ending back in Orange Beach in mid July. Points are awarded to winning teams for first through third places in weighed Blue Marlin, and catch-and-release in each of the tournaments.

Frequently while traveling the circuit displaying the trophy during tournament season, I hear the question, "what's the catch...there's no entry fee, no paperwork...surely there's a catch somewhere". The reality is, there isn't one. If you compete in the tournament circuit sanctioned events, you're automatically entered...It's that simple!

The beauty of the Triple Crown lies in its simplicity. The series is all about one thing, recognizing the "best of the best" overall championship team of the tournament circuit while bringing exposure and attention to the spectacular sport fishing off our coast. The trophy ain't bad either. Looks great in the office, den or wherever you put it.

2011 saw the GCTC introduced for the first time at Bobby Carter's Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic at the popular Isle of Capri Casino in Biloxi. Reaction from anglers and crew was immediate and overwhelmingly positive. The excitement continued to build throughout the tournament circuit and culminated in a virtual tie at the conclusion remarkably similar to NASCAR's tie between Tony Steward and Carl Edwards that year. "Team Patron" would break the tie and take the inaugural Frank Ledbetter GCTC Trophy home to Texas.

2012 was the year of the "Done Deal" fishing out of Houma Louisiana. After a dream season of unbelievable tournament success, Jon Gonsoulin loaded the 2012 Trophy in his Citation jet after the Blue Marlin Grand Championship and flew it home to Louisiana. Nobody came close to catching the "Done Deal" as Jon proved once again the old adage, when you're hot...you're hot.

Not yet ready to turn down the heat, the boys from Louisiana fought their way through all five 2013 qualifying events and once again found themselves back at the winner's table, snatching up the coveted GCTC trophy for a second consecutive year. What could be better than a beautiful six-foot custom stainless steel marlin sculpture by renowned marine artist Frank Ledbetter? How about bookends?

Sea Mixer, a 66 Spencer owned by Ronald Davis and run by Capt. Devin Potts, was declared the third-place winner in the 2014 Blue Marlin Grand Championship when Chris Davis caught a 368.2-pound blue marlin and Tyler Davis released another one. With that third place finish, and their top finishes that year in the other four tournaments of the series, Sea Mixer stepped up to grab the coveted 2014 Gulf Coast Triple Crown Championship trophy, and with that win dashed Done Deal's chance for a three-peat.

Dennis Pastentine and his veteran team aboard Relentless Pursuit, a 95 Jim Smith based in New Orleans, took the Gulf Coast Triple Crown Championship in 2015. With Captain Robbie Doggett as skipper, Michael Akiu and Jerry Morrison as mates, Relentless Pursuit started strong by winning the Cajun Canyons Billfish Classic and competed in all five events that comprise the series.

Which team will be crowned "Best of the Best" in 2016? One thing's for sure — somewhere, somehow, Sonny will be involved and part of the process, as he is with most things boating on the Gulf Coast.

Look for the unveiling of the 2016 masterpiece trophy by sculptor Frank Ledbetter at the Wharf Outfitter Store in May.

Scott Burt
Coastal Marina Management