DESTIN, Fla. (WMBB) — Anglers from the Panhandle reeled in a monster fish.  The Destin team hooked a nearly 780-pound blue marlin, landing them in the winner’s circle of the 27th annual Orange Beach Billfish Classic.

Team Mollie, with members Jeff Shoults, Casey Wehrhahn, Jacob Castle, Colton Guthrie, and angler Brian Stover reeled in the 776-pound fish 250 miles off the coast near an oil rig.  

“I’ve been fishing here for 35 years. It’s the largest one I’ve ever caught in the gulf,” said Capt. Jeff Shoults.  

Captain Shoults said his crew is experienced, but nothing prepared them for the battle they faced.  

“Until this one jumped, we weren’t sure whether we had a big tuna fish or we had a blue marlin. She only jumped once, and when she did, she was probably 300 yards behind the boat. For the last two hours of the fight, we could actually look down and see the fish the water was so clear.” 

After three hours, Shoults said the 150-inch-long fish made a mistake.  

“She got tired,” said Shoults. “Which means when he actually went to pull on her instead of her turning her head down, she actually rolled sideways, and once she did, he could kind of get more control over her, pulled her around the side of the boat, and she came up and we got a chance to harvest her.” 

The first-place catch, and $180,000 check, land Team Mollie in the top spot to win the 2023 triple crown. A point-based leader bracket from four summer tournaments, ending with the Grand Championship at the Wharf in July.  

Shoults won the Triple Crown back in 2017.

“We compare it to the Master’s green jacket, you know, that’s what you want. You want the jacket,” said Shoults.

Team Mollie is back at it competing in the Gulf Coast Masters Memorial Weekend tournament, and looking back on a legendary fishermen’s tale.   

“She was just a real stubborn big fish,” said Shoults. 

At 776 pounds and 4 ounces, that blue marlin is a new record for the Orange Beach Billfish Classic. 

Shoults said reeling in a fish this big is a team effort.

“People need to know that when you do catch a fish like this, it’s weeks of preparation. Go into a tournament deckhands spend weeks getting leaders ready, rods ready, everything ready. Captains go through looking at satellite shots, we look at currents,” said Shoults. “So everybody just needs to know it’s just a real team effort that catches these fish. It’s not just one person.”