By MATT COMBS
The Port St. Joe Star | 850-229-7843
@MattPSJStar | firstname.lastname@example.org
Local and visiting anglers took advantage of the three-day federal waters season for red snapper in Mexico Beach over the weekend.
On Saturday evening, dozens of anglers and scores of curious locals and visitors watched the scales intently at the Mexico Beach Welcome Center to see who would take home the prizes in the Golly Whopper Classic.
The tournament, which is in it sixth year, has seen a steady increase in participation.
According to tournament founders, the classic has grown at a steady 20 percent rate.
“It has grown every single year and it keeps growing,” said Kimberly Shoaf, president of Mexico Beach’s CDC. “You can’t beat the snapper category because that’s what people come here to fish.”
While Shoaf noted the displeasure of local anglers towards the three-day season, she also noted the efforts of the Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association deploying habitat for the prized fish.
According to Shoaf, events such as the Golly Whopper have a positive impact on Mexico Beach.
“It (the tournament) brings in not only fishermen, but they bring in their families,” Shoaf said. “They eat in our great restaurants, they shop in our wonderful shops, and they really get to enjoy all that Mexico Beach has to offer.”
With a total payout of $16,279, a total of 67 boats signed up for the Golly Whopper.
First-place payouts for the top kingfish, red snapper, and grouper came in at $1,507.
Divers who speared the top fish in their category garnered $950, with an added $500 to the dive team who hauled the greatest weight of lionfish from the Gulf.
Top youth anglers were awarded $350.
Alec Bloodworth took both the youth and regular kingfish title for Team Green Banana with a 31.24 pound fish, while Team Southbound took the red snapper crown with a 26.8 pound fish.
While the top three grouper all broke the previous tournament record, Team Southern Hooker took home the top prize money with a 41.24 pound fish.
Jason Wilson took home the spear fishing grouper title with 32.39 pound fish, while Justin Dixon speared a 25.67 red snapper for that category’s title.
A real success of the tournament was the lionfish category.
The plastic bushel basket provided to spear fishermen to weigh the lionfish quickly proved to be lacking, with spear fishermen bringing back hundreds of the invasive species.
The two spear fishing teams participating in the weight in, Team Crazy Blonde and Team Bobcat, brought in a combined weight of 449 pounds of lionfish.
Team Crazy Blond contributed 311 pounds to the total lionfish haul and took the title.