Rich Malafy and a team of six others caught the second-place marlin in the recent 18th annual Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic out of Destin, Florida, this past weekend. Team Panhandler, fishing aboard a 54-foot Hatteras, was one of 79 boats angling for $1,747,700 in prize money. That’s a good reason to go out to sea. Way out to sea.
“During this tournament we fish about 150 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico,” Malafy said. The boat carried 1,500 gallons of fuel with an additional 500 gallons in bladders on the deck.
The anglers fished Thursday through Saturday using live bait (blackfin tunas or schoolie mahi mahi) or trolling artificial lures.
“We weren’t lighting the world on fire in terms of catching fish the first two and a half days. We only wound up with one small schoolie, the blackfins we were mostly using for bait and some sharks,” Malafy said. “But even with time counting down, the team wasn’t about to give up.”
On Saturday morning, the last day of the tournament, the boat was fishing a shallow water rig. An hour into trolling artificial lures, they spotted a large “bill” come up on the center outrigger lure. The fish took the lure and the fight was on — about an hour long as the fish jumped and the boat threaded its way between the rig, other fishing boats and a rig supply ship.
Once it was brought to the boat, the team took an in-water measurement to ensure the minimum size, and then hauled it aboard and started the three-hour trip back to land.
“We knew there were a couple of marlin coming in but we were confident with the one we had,” Malafy said. “It’s like being a rock star at this tournament. When the boat backs into the slip, there are a couple hundred people watching your catch be offloaded by the weigh crew and cheering you on as the fish goes on the scale.”
The 601.4-pound marlin earned the team second place and $182,275 in prize money. Fishing alongside Malafy was boat owner and angler Tim O’Brien, angler Mike Morette who fought the fish, Capt. Travis Gill and mates John Goodwin, Justin Williams and Adam McGugin.