June 5, 2013, Biloxi, Mississippi:
By Capt. Dave Lear
All the guests are here, only nobody apparently told Andrea she wasn’t invited. The 2013 Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic got underway Wednesday evening as planned with the captains’ meeting and kick-off festivities at the host Golden Nugget Casino. But lurking far offshore was the newly-formed Tropical Storm Andrea. So the official start originally scheduled for Thursday has been moved back a day. Boats will now be allowed to leave Biloxi’s Point Cadet Marina at 9 a.m. Friday and can begin fishing as soon as they clear safe water. Fishing hours will be extended into Sunday as a result.
“It was a tough decision to change the schedule,” Tournament Director Bobby Carter explained afterward. “There is a ton of preparation to pull this off under normal circumstances. But it all boils down to the fact that this event is about the fishermen and not us. We want everyone to be safe and have a good time, so we made the decision strictly on that basis.”
“Overall, everybody has said it’s a positive,” added Tournament Coordinator Bert Merritt. “We heard several teams say it was a good, quick decision and they appreciate that to be able to plan ahead. And the forecast for Saturday and Sunday is for beautiful weather and that’s what we’re hoping for.”
As registration came to a close Wednesday evening 55 boats were entered. But it will re-open again at noon Thursday and stay open until 4 p.m. to allow any last-minute entries.
“We’ve talked to a lot more boats that were planning to fish,” Merritt added. “There are definitely some sleepers out there, waiting and watching the weather. I suspect we’ll add some more teams before it’s all over.”
At stake is $1.1 million in prize money. Teams will be hunting blue marlin, tuna, wahoo and dolphin in the canyons and rips of the central Gulf. In another twist this year, broadbill swordfish is an optional category. Teams will be allowed to weigh up to two broadbills per boat, as long as they meet the 60-inch minimum measured from the lower jaw to the fork of the tail. Since most of the boats stay offshore in open water rather than return to the docks each night, the new category should make for interesting competition. Swordfish are primarily nocturnal feeders.
Despite the change in plans the anglers, crews and family members were all in a festive mood Wednesday. Before the meeting many had the chance to browse the numerous sponsor booths displaying product and services throughout the dockside plaza. Sam Peters, owner of Release Marine, had a beautiful teak fighting chair and the company’s nautical clothing line on display.
“We love coming here and sponsoring this event,” Peters says. “It gives us the chance for close interaction with our client base. These folks are real, honest, down-to-earth people and they’re very easy to deal with. A significant portion of our business is here in the Gulf and Bobby and his crew really help us out. Best of all, the fishing is just phenomenal. People who have never fished these offshore waters just don’t realize how good it really is.”
By the time Sunday afternoon rolls around, many more will be well aware of the Gulf’s blue-water possibilities. And hopefully Andrea will be nowhere in sight.