April 30, 2013; Biloxi, Mississippi:
By Capt. Dave Lear
Long before the fleet of sport-fishing yachts motor offshore in search of winning fish, the docks at Biloxi’s Point Cadet Marina are a flurry of activity. Reels are spooled, drags tested, hooks sharpened and provisions loaded aboard. Amid the hustle and bustle a hard-working crew delivers ice and bait, operates the fuel dock or rings up a sale in the nearby store. Led by owners Danny and Laurie Pitalo, the staff of Gorenflo’s Tackle and Marina Store and Point Cadet Fuel and Ice make sure all the boats are ready to compete.
“The Classic is one of our highlights of the season, along with our spring cobia tournament and the SKA National Championship every fall,” says Danny Pitalo, who has owned the business for 27 years. “We’re also involved with several local tournaments throughout the season, but I’ve been a part of the Classic from the start.”
In fact, Pitalo was one of the trio that first came up with the tournament’s concept. Fishing with Bobby Carter and the late Bill McLellan in the Oyster Bar tournament in the mid-1990s, the three were relaxing in the cockpit after a long day on the water. The conversation naturally focused on fishing and the men realized Biloxi was ideally located for the most popular marlin waters and had all the necessary amenities such as the marina, accommodations and casino. The concept quickly became a reality with McLellan leading the way and today the Classic is recognized as one of the top big-game events in the world.
“I had a good feeling it would be a popular tournament,” Pitalo says. “But I never expected it to become what it has. We enlisted several good friends like Ronnie McLellan, Bert Merritt and Jack Teschel and it’s just taken off. I’m predicting 90 boats this year, maybe more. I’ve been getting a lot of phone calls and the word is out about the Gulf of Mexico and our potential for really big fish.”
Pitalo is predicting a behemoth will come to the scales this June. “I think it’ll probably take an 800-pounder to win it this year,” he says. “There are lots of good reports coming in and a ton of bait out there. It’ll be another great tournament. Fuel prices have come down some, people are a little more relaxed and more optimistic about the economy. So I expect most of our regular boats and a lot of new ones this year. It’ll be a very competitive group of anglers.”
Adding the swordfish category is another incentive for 2013, according to Pitalo. “Swordfish will be a definite plus,” he explains. “We let the boats go out early, so they might as well be able to fish at night. There are so many swordfish out there now. That’s an exciting bonus for the anglers, plus it’ll give the spectators the chance to see something new and different.”
At every successful tournament there is a tackle store and fuel dock that outfits the competing boats. For the Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic, that operation is www.gorenflostackle.com, as it has been since the beginning.