By REID TUCKER
Some things are absolutely meant to be.
Just ask Luke Andrews, who, along with the six other crewmen aboard the fishing boat ReHab, got to split $145,411 amongst themselves after winning the dolphin division at the prestigious Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic, which wrapped up Sunday, June 22, in Miramar Beach.
Though the final battle against the near-record-setting fish (also commonly known by its Pacific name mahi-mahi) lasted just 10 minutes or so, the ReHab crew had to endure a grueling waiting game before landing their piscine prize. Andrews, a DeFuniak Springs native, was the man on board who spotted and hooked the tournament-winning dolphin, though fellow angler Tim Howard reeled in the fish – a concession to tournament rules, which allows just one switch of the fishing rod between team mates. Two days of slow fishing and a last-minute catch meant the ReHab, of Lafayette, La., was in for a mad dash back to the dock that Sunday evening, but Andrews said the boat made it back with about an hour to spare before the 8 p.m. deadline.
“This was something that was definitely supposed to happen,” Andrews said. “We all had that feeling as soon as we caught him. The fish just weren’t biting those first few days, so when we finally got this one on the line at the tail-end of the tournament we knew we were on to something big.”
“Big” is a little bit of an understatement. The ReHab’s haul weighed in at 48.2 pounds – quite the fish, considering the average mahi-mahi doesn’t get much bigger than 29 pounds or so. The fish, caught about 140 miles due south of Destin, was hooked four times over the course of that long afternoon, taking the bait and spitting out the hook after fighting for just a few minutes. However, Andrews, living up to his nickname of “Dolphin Whisperer,” used a variety of tricks (trade secrets of the utmost secrecy all) to weave the bait out to the fish through several other troll lines, hitting his target square on the head to set up the catch.
Andrews and the ReHab are no strangers to success, having claimed second place at last year’s Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic as well as a win at the 2013 Blue Marlin Grand Championships, held annually in Orange Beach. Though the ReHab took home a sizeable share of the 2014 Classic’s total purse of $1.68 million, it wasn’t angling skill alone that won the day from among the veritable 77-boat armada that turned out for the tournament, the biggest and richest of its kind in the Gulf. Andrews said a large part of the crew’s success came down to pure luck: they bet across the board in the optional jackpot that they’d take the top spot in their division.
The same tactic was used by overall tournament winner Steve Brown, who landed the only blue marlin this year. Brown and the crew of the Perdido Bay-based Reel Fuelish got a payday of nearly half a million dollars for their 594-pound catch after all the betting was said and done, easily surpassing the previous high-water mark ($437,158 to a single team in 2008) in the 11-year history of the tournament.
Though there is little doubt that the Classic attracts top-level fishermen from all over with its huge pay-outs and the prospect of catching an elusive marlin, for Andrews it’s the dolphin or nothing.
“We’re all out there fishing for a marlin, of course, but the dolphin is my favorite to catch,” he said. “It’s the prettiest fish in the Gulf and it is a fun one to catch as well. They’re fluorescent blue and green and they’re always jumping way out of the water when they’re on the line. When they hit the hook it looks like a bolt of lightning in the water.” Andrews, though still a young man, spent a lifetime as an avid outdoorsman and angler. He has taken up farming as a “day job” starting this year, and the countless hours of practicing the fisherman’s art has given him the patience it takes to wait out a big haul and a big crop alike. Mostly though, what he loves is being outside, whether on the water or in the field.
“I’ve kind of got the best of both worlds now,” he said. “There’s nothing like being 200 miles or more out in the Gulf, but you can’t fish in the winter.”
For more information on the Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic, including a full list of this year’s winners, visit http://fishecbc.com.
By REID TUCKER