By Capt. Dave Lear
And so it begins. As the fleet of 60 boats motors into the Gulf of Mexico in search of blue marlin and game fish worth potentially thousands of dollars, the true impact of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic ripples like the receding wakes left behind. Now in its 15th year, the Classic has earned a well-deserved reputation as one of the premier events on the tournament circuit and a big showcase for the region.
“From a tourism standpoint, the Classic has a huge economic impact on Biloxi and the surrounding communities,” explains tournament director Bobby Carter. “We’re helping tell everyone that after a couple of tough years our fishing is great and the Mississippi Gulf Coast is back and better than ever.” Even newcomers see evidence of that immediately.
“This is a fun group of people,” says Nycol Bevis, representing the West Coast Fishing Club, a new tournament sponsor. Based in British Columbia, Canada, the WCFC offers luxury all-inclusive fishing trips at three resorts in Canada and another in Panama. It’s been in business for 25 years.
“It’s obvious this is where big-time fishermen come to play in the Gulf,” she adds.
Art Favre, who owns A Work of Art, a sleek Viking convertible, is one of those big-time anglers. He’s been fishing the Classic since its inception in 1997, and it’s one of his favorite tournaments on the Gulf Coast. Favre and his experienced team left the dock today with high expectations.
“It’s always competitive with a lot of really good boats,” Favre says. “There are big fish caught every year. Right now fishing is as good in the Gulf as it’s ever been. It’s the best in the United States, for sure. Boats are seeing a lot more blue marlin and billfish in general. We’re also finding lots of wahoo and dolphin and just as many tuna as ever. The only problem is the fish are getting smarter and a lot harder to catch,” he said with a laugh.
Carter is predicting another banner year at the scales, which open at 3 p.m. on Friday at the Point Cadet Marina in Biloxi. Weigh-ins are open to the public and typically draw huge crowds.
“We’ve got the top crews on boats from Key West to Corpus Christi, and they’re on top of their game when they come here,” he says. “And throughout our 15-year history, we’ve always had some big fish. So I’m expecting another typical Classic with a 700-pound-plus marlin coming in. “
Is that promotional hype? It isn’t when the spotlight is shining brightly on the big stage.