“I can’t even begin to tell you what this means,” said Captain Jason Hallmark as he fought back tears while accepting the trophy.
“At the beginning of every year, it’s our goal…to win it again,” said Captain Jeff Shoults.
There is no place in the world that rivals the schedule of big game fishing tournaments that take place each summer right here on the Gulf Coast. Captains and crews chase not only the Gulf’s biggest fish but also big dollars in prize money and even bigger competition to be able to pose with a ‘Happy Gilmore’ check which often approaches half a million dollars.
The best teams are the ones who can not only win any given week against as many as one hundred other boats but those who find a way to consistently earn a spot in the three finishers. And consistency is needed to capture the most sought after championship in sportfishing. The Gulf Coast Triple Crown, a points race loosely modeled after NASCAR. The Gulf Coast Triple Crown is awarded annually to the team that totals the most points during the tournament season, yet it pays out absolutely nothing, but it means everything!
To win ‘The Triple Crown’ means you are the best of the best. You are recognized by your peers as having weathered, in some cases literally, the months-long tournament storm. You have proven you are not just a one-hit-wonder who got lucky during one tournament. Instead, the combined efforts of the owner, captain, and mates battled, produced, and accomplished more than any other boat. The result is recognition that is priceless, just like the custom-made marlin trophy that has been awarded annually since 2011.
“It all started when I hired Captain Patrick Ivie,” said Matt McDonald, owner of Breathe Easy who won the championship back in 2016. “I’d known him for years, but he took a leap of faith in me coming aboard and it’s humbling to have that kind of dedication. Once he did, I knew the Triple Crown was a possibility. You always think big but you also have to be real about it too. Winning took a lot of luck and hard work. It’s not something that happens every season so when it does, you really enjoy it, but dang it, you sure want to win it every year!”
Shoults, the long-time ultra-successful Captain of Mollie out of Destin, was the first Florida-based boat to win the Triple Crown in 2017 said, “It’s very gratifying to win this trophy and to be recognized by all the other great boats.” The day this year’s schedule was released he took to social media proclaiming he and his crew are shooting for their second Triple Crown Trophy.
Last year it was Hallmark running the boat Devotion, winning his first trophy and the magnitude of the team’s accomplishment wasn’t lost on him.” Josh Tice, the owner, enabled me to put together an outstanding crew which is what gave us a chance to win. There is so much talent fishing on other teams in our part of the Gulf, if your crew isn’t great, you have no shot at winning,” said Hallmark.
With their 2021 championship, Devotion now joins an exclusive club that features Done Deal (3), Relentless Pursuit (2), Patron, Sea Mixer, Breathe Easy, Mollie, and Pearl as Gulf Coast Triple Crown Champions. Like many things on the northern Gulf Coast, it was the late Sonny Middleton who came up with the original concept of a Billfish Championship Series before tournament promoter Scott Burt brought it to life.
This year’s sanctioned tournaments include; The Orange Beach Billfish Classic May 17-22 at The Wharf in Orange Beach. The Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic, June 6 – 12 in Biloxi, MS. The Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic in Sandestin, FL on June 22 – 26 before concluding at the Blue Marlin Grand Championship at The Wharf in Orange Beach July 13 – 17.