The gift that keeps on giving.

The gift that keeps on giving.

Mexico Beach Marina co-owner Nate Odum presented $2,000 to Bonita Thompson and the Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association (MBARA) last week to continue expansion on the John Thompson Memorial Reef project.

According to MBARA president Bob Cox, the donation will take the number of reef structures at the site from 29 to a record 30, surpassing the area’s largest underwater reef, the wreck of the Vamar, also known as the Lumbership site.

Currently, the Thompson reef site is spread out over half the length of a football field.

“John keeps touching people through the reef every day,” said Bonita, Thompson’s widow. “To have it become the size it is and to have people keep honoring him is amazing.”

The reef sits in the Bell Shoals site, roughly 3 miles off the shores of Mexico Beach, and provides fishing, diving, snorkeling and other ecotourism opportunities to both residents and visitors.

Thompson, who passed away in December 2012, was an avid fisherman and an active member of the Mexico Beach community. Through private donations reef construction commenced in 2013 and hasn’t slowed down since.

“The reef was only going to be 10-12 reefs originally,” Cox said. “It’s grown to 300 percent of what we thought it would be.”

The donated funds were raised through entry fees to the 2015 Ling Ding Fishing Tournament, held in the final weeks of April.

While popular in the 1980s, the Ling Ding tournament fizzled as cobia, also known as ling, left the area. With the fish returning, the event was revived by the 98 Real Estate Group several years ago and inherited by Odum and co-owner Bill Mulligan at the marina.

“I’m more than happy to come in and keep the tournament going,” Odum said. “And to do it in John’s memory is an honor.”

More than 20 boats came together for last year’s Ling Ding tournament, which now bears Thompson’s name, for several days on the water as captains and their crews tried to score the biggest cobia possible.

And if there’s one place where cobia are out in force, it’s the Thompson reef.

Specifically designed to attract the fish, cobia are large and notoriously difficult to catch, often taking a lot of time, patience and perseverance. According to Bonita, it was Thompson’s favorite challenge.

“John was one of the best fishermen around,” Odum said. “He knew what he was doing and he made it look easy.”

Many fishermen who visit the reef make their biggest cobia catches on the waters. Last year Bonita reeled in a 67-pounder and has heard of cobia weighing more than 70 pounds being taken at the site.

The reef is also where Odum caught a cobia which solidified itself as his personal best.

“Once I reeled it in, I looked up and smiled at John,” Odum said. “It was perfect.”

In addition to attracting large fish the Thompson reef offers smaller fare like baitfish and sheepshead, making it a hotspot that fishermen of any skill level can enjoy. The structures attract also flounder, gag grouper, and Spanish mackerel.

The MBARA will drop the 30th structure to Thompson’s reef later in the year while deploying modules to additional areas of Bell Shoals.

“The MBARA is grateful for the Mexico Beach Marina’s continued support along with all the contributors that made the John Thompson Memorial reef a reality,” Cox said.