The sun was still a promise early on May 19 as Capt. Jeff Shoults and crew started a day of marlin hunting in the Gulf of Mexico. Competing in the Orange Beach Billfish Classic aboard the 66-foot Mollie, the anglers found themselves 150 miles off the Louisiana Coast and some 250 miles southwest of Wharf Marina, where the tournament was based.
Later that morning, the crew landed a massive marlin weighing over 776 pounds. More than big enough to earn them a top spot on the podium, the fish is also the heaviest blue marlin ever weighed during the tournament’s 27-year history.
The blue marlin weighed over 776 pounds. Courtesy of Jeff Shoults
“It was just before daybreak, and with our sonar we [saw] a big fish about 200 feet deep,” says Shoults, 59, who runs the Mollie out of Destin, Florida. “We marked the fish, got close to it, and sent down a live 5- to 8-pound blackfin tuna bait. But the marlin didn’t take it.”
The crew repeated this exercise four more times, Shoults tells Outdoor Life, pinpointing the marlin each time on their electronics. On their fifth attempt around 6 a.m., the marlin came in fast, swallowing the bait along with the 12/0 circle hook it was attached to.
“The marlin just charged the bait and took off on a blistering run,” Shoults says.
Pulling around 400-yards of 130-pount test line off the Shimano Tiagra reel, the massive marlin jumped only once on its initial run.
“Brian Stover was on the rod, and he’s an excellent, very experienced billfisherman. He was on that fish for [over] 4 hours, and it was a grueling battle.”
The marlin never jumped again, but it continued to fight deep and doggedly. Most of the battle took place within sight of the Mollie’s crew, and they had more than a few close calls trying to boat the billfish.
“For about two hours the fish was close to our boat, less than 60 feet deep, and we could see it plainly,” Shoults says. “My mate Casey Wherhahen had the leader to the fish 15 to 20 times, trying to pull it close to the boat. But every time the fish surged away, and we had to fight it in again and again.
“Finally, though, the sun got up about 10 a.m., and we saw the fish was very deep-bodied and broad across the back. We knew it was a giant. At 10:30, over four hours after we hooked it, Casey got ahold of the leader, the fish rolled sideways, and we got her close to the boat.”
It then took two crewmen, Jacob Castle and Colton Guthrie, to hit the fish with flying gaffs and haul the massive marlin aboard.
“It’s the biggest marlin I’ve caught in the gulf, and I knew we had a chance to win the tournament,” says Shoults. He says the fish’s head was so big that it looked like a dinosaur coming out of the water.
With the multi-day tournament still underway, the crew stayed offshore another night before heading back to the marina in Orange Beach on May 20. With an ice maker on board, Shoults says they were able to keep the fish well preserved, so it never lost any weight before hitting the dock.
When they arrived back at Wharf Marina, a crowd watched the crew hoist the marlin onto the official tournament scales. The 10.5-foot marlin weighed 776.4-pounds, making it the heaviest blue marlin in tournament history. The crew took home $183,000 in winnings.
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