June 10, 2011, Biloxi, Mississippi
By Capt. Dave Lear
With blasts of horns echoing across the water, one by one the 60 yachts fishing the 15th annual Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic pulled away from the docks yesterday for the long run offshore. The objective: A blue marlin or tuna large enough to take the top prize in this highly-competitive sportfishing event. The payoff? A total purse worth more than $1 million.
“You’ve got to compete with the big boys if you’re playing this game,” said angler Ted Offner of New Orleans. Offner was a team member aboard Conundrum, a 70-foot Viking. He caught his first blue marlin in the Classic two years ago. “It’s a hoot!
“We’re going to run about six hours out to target blues and also white marlin,” he added. “I’m going to rely on our skipper and mates to put us on some good fish. They know what’s going on. They’re coming off a second-place finish in a Louisiana tournament last week, so they’re dialed in.”
Facing a long run from the Point Cadet Marina in Biloxi to the bluewater rips and canyons offshore, the boats were allowed to leave the dock at noon yesterday. Fishing started at midnight Friday and continues until 6 p.m. Saturday. Most of the boats will remain offshore unless a qualifying fish is landed. Besides blue marlin and tuna, eligible species include wahoo and dolphin. Marlin must be at least 100 inches long to qualify, while the game fish minimum is 20 pounds. The weigh scales at the host Isle Resort and Casino open at 4 p.m. this afternoon.
Capt. Mike Rowell, skipper of Annie Girl, a 62 Resmondo and a long-time participant, had a different strategy for success. His team has often stood in the Classic winner’s circle.
“We’re going to fish for everything, of course, but we’re primarily looking for that winning tuna,” Rowell explained. “I’m going to run south, towards ThunderHorse and some of those rigs and we’ll chunk and fish live and dead natural baits around structure. When we catch one, we’ll ice it down and stay out for the duration.”
Rowell said conditions were very favorable for lots of action. Despite the recent flooding along the Mississippi River, there wasn’t much debris offshore. The Loop Current, with its iridescent blue water, had pushed in close to the Independence Hub, creating a long east/west line of favorable water. Rips where different shades of water collide or weed lines form typically concentrate bait and attract the larger predators.
“We’re always glad to be fishing this event,” Rowell added. “We’ve only missed one year and that was because of a blown engine. When you’re here, you’re competing against the best fishermen in the Gulf, all the heavy-hitters. If you want to win, you’d better be on top of your game.”