Updates from the Gulf Coast Triple Crown Championship

by Capt. Dave Lear

Done Deal Three-Peats As Triple Crown Champion - Posted: Tuesday, July 17, 2018 2:26 PM
The Wharf; Orange Beach, Alabama:

The third time is yet another charming and gleaming trophy for Jon and his daughter Katie, Captain Jason Buck and Done Deal team. With the Gulf Coast Triple Crown Championship lead heading into the Blue Marlin Grand Championship last week, the Houma, Louisiana crew earned its third title overall after a dominant performance. Done Deal was named Top Release Team with four blues and one white marlin to its credit. It also took the second-place Tournament Award after landing a 640.8-pound blue. Petite Katie Gonsoulin whipped that fish after an eight-hour battle in the chair.

Since its creation, Done Deal is the only team to repeat as Triple Crown Champions. The team accomplished the feat in back to back seasons in 2012 and 2013. The third crown in 2018 sets a new incredible standard for competitive marlin fishing in the Gulf.

“We’ve been fishing hard since 2013 to win the Crown again,” Jon Gonsoulin said. “Adding Katie to the team as our designated angler has made it more special. There are a lot of great crews in the Gulf. But there’s only one Jason Buck.”

The late Sonny Middleton came up with the concept of the Triple Crown and Director Scott Burt helped develop and nurture it over the last seven-plus years.

“Sonny always thought the Triple Crown was a way to bring all the teams together,” Buck explained. “Sonny was the godfather of sport-fishing in the Gulf. So I hope we’re making him proud by claiming our third championship.”

The Gulf Coast Triple Crown Championship consists of five sanctioned events in the central Gulf of Mexico and is sponsored by American Marine Brokerage. The affiliated tournaments include the Orange Beach Billfish Classic, Cajun Canyons Billfish Classic, Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic, Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic and the Blue Marlin Grand Championship.

The Triple Crown is scored on a hybrid system that includes both weight and release points for the top three finishes in the blue marlin divisions only. Bonus points are also accrued for series participation, weighed marlin lengths and tournament marlin records. The winning team receives The Championship Trophy, a five-foot tall, one of a kind masterpiece handcrafted by metal artist Frank Ledbetter that is valued at $18,000. In addition, the Triple Crown Champion earns $12,500 and bragging rights among the Gulf’s top big-game competitors.

Done Deal wrapped up the season with 921 points. That tally included first place and a tournament record blue in the Orange Beach Billfish Classic, second place catch and release in the Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic, second place in the Blue Marlin Grand Championship and bonus participation points.

Reel Addiction, a 56 Viking owned by Rocky Jones of Pensacola and run by Capt. Scooter Porto, finished second in the standings with 700 points. Reel Addiction had the second place fish in the Cajun Canyons Billfish Classic, first place in the Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic and earned bonus points for competing in all five events.

Rounding out third place was Wynsong, a 66 Viking based in Destin and run by Capt. Allen Staples. The team earned 610 points based on bonus points and a first-place win and second-place release honors in the Cajun Canyon tournament.

“Congratulations to Jon, Katie, Jason and the entire Done Deal team for another stellar season. The competition was intense, but you truly demonstrated your skill level and commitment to winning,” said GCTC Director Scott Burt. “Done Deal has established a dynasty in Gulf sport-fishing that is going to be really hard to top.”

Underdog Win - Posted: Sunday, June 24, 2018 11:51 AM
Competing against professional teams with an average boat length 10 feet longer, a group of high school pals captured the 2018 Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic by boating the largest blue, 699.2 pounds. Angler Will Beard, Capt. Bo Keough, mate Todd Terreson and the rest of the crew of Can’t Deny It caught the fish on a chugger lure trolling a weed line 120 miles south of Destin. The fight lasted 1 hour and 45 minutes. Can’t Deny It also released another blue, a white marlin and boated qualifying tuna, wahoo and dolphin for an impressive angling weekend.

Connor Ferrara and his family team aboard Reel Fire, a 70 Viking based in Biloxi, took second-place honors with a 665.2-pound blue. It was caught on a live bait near Olympus after a brief fight.

Lady angler Sydney Turner-Bankston, also fishing on her family boat You Never Know!, a 72 F&S, worked the Independence Hub to entice a blue marlin that tipped the scales at 640.8 pounds. Capt Joey Birbeck runs the custom sportfisher that is based at the Baytowne Marina in Sandestin.

Breathe Easy with Rick Olsen in the chair held a spot on the leaderboard until You Never Know returned to the scales. Olsen and his former GCTC Champion team mates scored a 518-pounder on a live bait near the Titan Rig.

Celebrity chef and South Walton local Emeril Lagasse on Aldente brought his first ECBC marlin to the scales Saturday afternoon, but it came up a little short of placing at 475.7 pounds. Lagasse and the team also released a considerably larger blue after the first was boated, according to Capt. Brad Benton.

Born2Run, a 72 Viking run by Capt. Myles Colley with owner Dana Foster on the rod, took top release honors by catching four blues and letting them go. The Triple Crown leader heading into the ECBC, Reel Addiction, did not weigh a blue and were not a factor in the release division.

So in typical fashion, the 2018 Gulf Coast Triple Crown Championship will be determined by the Blue Marlin Grand Championship at The Wharf in Orange Beach. The tournament kicks off July 10. Will Reel Addiction hold off the challengers? Or will Done Deal, Wynsong or Team Supreme mount a final surge? We’ll soon know the outcome.

Treatable Addiction - Posted: Sunday, June 10, 2018 9:53 AM
By Capt. Dave Lear

Using the step treatment, Reel Addiction capitalized on its second-place finish in last weekend’s Cajun Canyons Billfish Classic to vault into Triple Crown consideration with an impressive win in the 2018 Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic. Chase Pate, Capt. Scooter Porto, owners Rocky and Laurie Jones and the rest of the Pensacola Beach-based team took 30 minutes to whip a blue marlin that tipped the scales at a hefty 796.9 pounds. The 56-foot Viking was fishing 170 miles to the west of Biloxi when the catch was made.

Team Supreme, a 76 Viking from Destin run by Capt. Chase Lake, boated the second-largest fish of the event when Alex Krake outlasted a 739.1-pounder after an 11-hour tug of war. Krake and his team had to plane the fish to the surface after it died during the fight.

Edgar McKee and his crew aboard Pearl, a 48 Viking sport-fisher based in Orange Beach, Alabama, captured the third-place fish. It weighed 611.5 pounds. Like Team Supreme, it was also brought in on Friday.

Relentless Pursuit continued its climb up the leaderboard. The New Orleans-based contestant won top Catch & Release honors with 1,800 points. Robbie Doggett is the boat's skipper. Done Deal, a Houma, Louisiana Viking with Capt. Jason Buck at the helm, was the second place release boat. It also earned 1,800 points but came in second based on time. Relentless Pursuit and Done Deal are both past Gulf Coast Triple Crown Champions. Money Shot came in third in the overall release standings with 1,200 points.

Although there was a strong influx of green water from the recent storm, crews reported slick calm conditions, plus plenty of bait and weed lines throughout the 2.5 days of fishing. This is the 22nd year of this popular event, which is held at the Golden Nugget Casino and Hotel/Point Cadet Marina in Biloxi. The fleet of 117 teams were competing for more than $2.3 million in prize money.

The Gulf Coast Triple Crown Championship, a highly competitive series featuring five top tournaments, heads to Sandestin, Florida for the fourth leg. The Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic begins June 20 at the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort in Miramar Beach.

Wynsong Dominates the Canyons - Posted: Sunday, June 3, 2018 10:55 AM
Angler Zoc Tokheim, Capt. Allen Staples and the rest of the Wynsong crew are whistling a happy tune Sunday morning. The Destin-based 66 Viking turned in a dominating performance in the 2018 Cajun Canyons Billfish Classic, capturing the top blue marlin and scoring a second-place finish in the release division. The extremely hefty fish tipped the scales at 699.3 pounds but only measured 116.5 inches from the lower jaw to the fork of the tail. All participating GCTC events raised the minimum length to 107 inches this year to promote billfish conservation.

“I’ve never seen a fatter fish that was so short,” says CCBC Tournament Director Steve Thomas. “We really had a time getting her offloaded and to the scales.”

Wynsong also released three blue marlin, worth 1,500 points, for its second-place finish.

Tyler Massey, with Capt. Scooter Porto at the helm of Reel Addiction, brought a 545-pound blue to the scales, good for second place in the weight division. The 56 Viking is owned by Rocky Jones and based in Pensacola Beach.

Kevin Courville also boated a blue aboard A Work of Art, a 92 Viking owned by Art Favre and run by Capt. Ron Woodruff. In comparison, this fish measured 116 inches, one-half inch off Wynsong’s mark yet weighed 178 pounds less. The official weight was 521.3 pounds.

Relentless Pursuit and owner Dennis Pasentine, the 2015 Gulf Coast Triple Crown Champion, took top release honors with three blues based on time. Capt. Robbie Doggett runs the 95-foot Jim Smith based in New Orleans.

Owner/angler John Engquist and his team aboard Chasin’ Tail, an 80-foot Weaver that calls Orange Beach home, was the third place release team. Capt. Clayt James and company released two blues and won on time.

Although they don’t count in the Triple Crown standings, Wynsong also hung the heaviest tuna of the week, a yellowfin weighing 156.4 pounds. Relentless Pursuit was second with a 115-pounder, while Chasin’ Tail put a respectable 94.1-pound tuna on the board.

Hosted by the Cypress Cove Marina and Lodge in Venice, Louisiana, the 2018 Classic finished with 26 blue marlin and three white marlin releases among 46 competing boats. The next leg of the coveted Gulf Coast Triple Crown Championship series begins Monday, June 4, in Biloxi with the Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic.

Done Deal Jumps Into Early Lead - Posted: Sunday, May 20, 2018 2:31 PM
Audiologists were puzzled by the loud, collective groan emanating from Orange Beach Saturday night. But the source of the noise was quickly determined as Done Deal grabbed the initial lead in the 2018 Gulf Coast Triple Crown Championship standings. That groan came from the 52 other boats competing in the Orange Beach Billfish Classic, the first leg in this highly competitive series. Done Deal, with owner Jon Gonsoulin and Capt. Jason Buck at the helm, are no strangers to Triple Crown glory. The team captured the championship title two years running, first in 2012 and then with a repeat the next year.

The team’s latest campaign is off to an impressive start. Katie Gonsoulin, Jon’s daughter, boated a 740.6-pound blue marlin after a short battle to capture first place in the OBBC. That fish also set a new tournament record. It was caught off a weed line near the Who Dat drilling rig on a live bait. Under the Triple Crown scoring format, fish that break existing tournament records are awarded an extra 51 points.

Angler Rick Olsen on Breathe Easy won second-place honors with his 551.8-pound blue. Breathe Easy, owner Matt McDonald and Capt. Patrick Ivey were the Triple Crown champions in 2016. Rounding out the points category in the weight division was angler Rusty Skalla aboard Black Sheep. Skalla and his team boated a blue weighing 513.4 pounds.

Sea Mixer topped the field in the catch and release division. The boat earned the most points, 1,500, and edged Share E with the same score based on time. Team Supreme took third place for the weekend with 1,000 points. A total of 53 boats competed in this year’s event.

“Conditions were two to three footers the first day, one to twos the second and one foot by the third,” says Tournament Director Johnny Dorland. “Everything worked out great and the fishing was very good. The ladies (Kate Dorland and Kate Ferrara-Dorland) and I are glad this one is in the books.” Founded in 1996, the Orange Beach Billfish Classic kicks off the Gulf big-game tournament season. The event has raised nearly $700,000 for The Billfish Foundation and other marine conservation groups since its inception.

The next stop on the Gulf Coast Triple Crown Championship is the Cajun Canyons Billfish Classic in Venice, Louisiana. Festivities kick off May 29 and fishing concludes June 2. That just happens to be home waters for the Houma-based Done Deal. But it’s still early and anything can happen between now and the middle of July in the red-hot—and noisy—Gulf.

Anticipation - Posted: Tuesday, May 8, 2018 5:09 PM
Temperatures are rising, rips are forming and flying fish are skimming gracefully above curling waves. It’s tournament time again in the Gulf of Mexico and teams are busy prepping boats, tackle and gear for another season on sport-fishing’s biggest stage. At the moment the slate is clean—every team has a chance to win. But to earn the coveted Gulf Coast Triple Crown Championship and take home Frank Ledbetter’s stunning stainless steel marlin trophy, there is much on the line. And five contests to stake a claim, starting with the Orange Beach Billfish Classic on May 16 in Alabama.

“We’ve got 56 boats registered right now and we cap the fleet at 60,” says OBBC co-director Kate Dorland. “The long-range forecast is favorable, so it’s all good. We’re looking forward to kicking off the new season.”

After the OBBC the action shifts west to the Cajun Canyons Billfish Classic in Venice by the end of May before coming back to Biloxi and the Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic in early June. Sandestin and the Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic is the next stop on the Triple Crown circuit before the competition culminates with the Blue Marlin Grand Championship at The Wharf in Orange Beach in July. There are thousands of gallons of diesel fuel and hundreds of skirted ballyhoo and bridled bonito between now and then. And to make things even more interesting, several new wrinkles have been added to the Triple Crown Championship this season.

In addition to the exclusive marlin trophy, the championship team will earn $12,500 in 2018. Points are accrued for first through third place in the blue marlin weight and release divisions. First place earns 250 points in the weight category and 125 for release. Second place scores 175 points and 100 points respectively, while third place blues are worth 100 and 75 points. In addition, bonus points will be awarded if eligible marlin exceed certain lengths or break an existing tournament record. Teams will also be credited an extra 250 points for entering all five Triple Crown events.

Also new for this year is the Optional Cash Award Jackpots with a 90 percent payout. The levels are $1,000, $2,500, $5,000 and a $10,000 winner take all category. Participation in the optional jackpot entries also earn points. Teams are encouraged to read the entire rules section beforehand. Results and Gulf Coast Triple Crown Championship standings will be updated at the conclusion of each tournament.

“The Gulf Coast Triple Crown Championship Series promotes the unbelievable offshore fishing we have here in the Gulf of Mexico,” says GCTC Director Scott Burt. “Frank Ledbetter’s magnificent masterpiece this year is his finest sculpture to date and for the first time $12,500 will be awarded to the winning team, plus we’ve added optional jackpots for those who like to play the odds. This really has evolved into the most sought-after championship in the sport.”