June 8, 2013, Biloxi, Mississippi:
By Capt. Dave Lear
The 145th annual Belmont Stakes thoroughbred horse race ran earlier Saturday in New York with Palace Malice an upset winner by 3 1/4 lengths. But in Biloxi, Mississippi all eyes were trained on the transom of Mollie a little after 7 p.m. local time as the 66-foot G&S Convertible backed into the Point Cadet Marina. Several game fish were resting on ice in the cockpit, but the upright white flag with a blue marlin flying from the starboard outrigger was main focal point. The flag indicated a boated marlin and the thousand spectators on hand were eager to see the evidence.
Yet like all good mysteries, the suspense built as a qualifying dolphin and respectable tuna were hoisted aloft, followed by a 135.5-pound yellowfin caught by Ryan Long. Then, with lightning flashing in the distance like strobe lights, the spotlight grew brighter as the dock workers off-loaded the marlin and slid it up to the scales. A hush fell over the crowd briefly before Weigh master Jack Teschel shouted out the weight–402.2 pounds–and a wave of cheers added an exclamation point. It was the first marlin for the 2013 Classic and the first boated blue marlin for angler Donnie Shear of Pensacola, Florida.
“We hooked the fish about 8:45 this morning on a live yellowfin,” a tired but obvious happy Shear said after the official score was announced. “We had a tough time catching bait. We finally filled the tuna tubes, then had a couple go out on us, so we were down to our last two live baits. We decided we would give it another 30 minutes when the fish ate. I had it to the boat in an hour and 15 minutes. But it took almost another hour to get it aboard. It stayed lit up with its head down and just wouldn’t give up.”
“We had that fish on the wire 20 times,” Capt. Jeff Shoults added, “But each time it surged off. We finally got it close enough to sink one gaff, then another and it still fought another 15 minutes. This catch was definitely a team effort.”
Shoults said the marlin was hooked near the Ursa oil rig, while the biggest tuna was taken within sight of the Who Dat rig. He reported beautiful conditions in the Gulf with the seas running two to three feet.
Although Boonedocks reported a blue marlin measuring 103 inches on board earlier in the day, the boat did not make it back by the time the scales closed at 9 p.m. Scattered reports from the 52-boat fleet confirmed quite a bit of action throughout the day. Breathe Reel Deep was the early leader in the catch and release division with one blue marlin and three white marlin to its credit. A Work of Art, Annie Girl, Bandit, First Choice, Reel Addiction, Smooth Finish and Surprise all radioed in marlin releases as well. There could easily be more since communications are spotty with the boats so far offshore. Blue marlin are worth 600 points for each successful release, while white marlin, sailfish and spearfish tally 250 points. Ties are broken by the actual release times.
Mollie definitely won’t be the only boat scoring in the game fish divisions, either. Done Deal, a perennial top performer, had a yellowfin tuna and dolphin already on board and other boats surely do as well.
So will Mollie’s fish stand the test of time? It’s hard to say. The scales open again at 1 p.m. on Sunday and all boats have to be back in by 4 p.m. It’s going to be a long night and even longer day on Sunday, but Mollie’s skipper likes their chances.
“Our fish is fat. We feel really good about it,” Shoults said with conviction.
First on race day, first on Saturday. The odds are in their favor.