June 8, 2015; Biloxi, Mississippi:
By Capt. Dave Lear
Eighteen-year-old Katie Gonsoulin and her team aboard Done Deal were the big winners of the 2015 Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic after weighing the largest blue marlin, a 587.3-pounder, late Saturday evening. The crew took home a check for $236,050 after the Sunday morning awards ceremony at the host Golden Nugget Casino Resort. That hefty total included the first place tournament awards for the winning fish, top crew, all five top optional categories for marlin and third place in the optional catch and release division. Gonsoulin was also the top lady angler for the week. A total of 60 boats competed for $1.14 million-plus in cash prizes during the 19th annual event.
“No, this never gets old,” Capt. Jason Buck, skipper of the 70 Viking convertible based in Houma, Louisiana, said when asked about winning another tournament. “This is what it’s all about. I attribute our success to a good, hard-working team and an aggressive owner.” Jon Gonsoulin, Katie’s father, owns Done Deal, with Lance Hightower as first mate and Trevor Lott as part-time crew. The boat is a perennial favorite on the high-stakes Gulf of Mexico big-game circuit.
Born2Run, a 63 Hatteras GT based in Pensacola, Florida, made a late charge on the leaderboard when owner/angler Dana Foster brought in his 575.0-pound blue. Led by Capt. Myles Colley, the Born2Run team settled for $139,250 for the second-place marlin tournament award and several second place finishes in optional entries. The boat also released two blue marlin to earn more optional entry money.
Capt. Jeff Shoults and the team aboard Mollie, a 66 G&S based in Destin, Florida, earned a hefty payout of $122,405 as the second-place catch and release winner, based on time, and the third-place 36.4-pound dolphin caught by Jerry Long. Caribe, the top boat in the hard-fought catch and release division, took home $59,125 after releasing three blues.
You Never Know!, a 72 F&S owned by Thomas Turner of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, rounded out third place in the marlin tournament award after landing a 517.2-pound blue. Scott McKnight was on the rod for his first-ever marlin, which also won several optional cash categories. You Never Know!, with Capt. Joey Birbeck at the helm, pocketed $81,400 for the event.
In the seesaw battle for game fish standings, the top tuna awards went to Dan St. Germain on Rising Sons ($49,125) for a 161.6-pound yellowfin, followed by Benny Whitehead on Gearjammer ($28,250) at 153.8 pounds and Mike Castle on Ms. Castle ($17,150) with a 152.4-pound fish.
Lee Michael Norris, competing aboard Reel Fuelish ($18,975), landed the biggest dolphin for the week at 39.6 pounds. Dan Hauser on Conundrum ($60,335) was two-plus pounds shy at 37.2, good for second, followed by Long on Mollie.
Stephen Chapman, on board A Work of Art, outlasted the largest wahoo, a 63.6-pound speedster, while teammate Wes Mincin added a 133.3-pound yellowfin to earn an overall payout of $89,400. Jennifer Attaway on Controlled Chaos ($14,075), captured the second-largest wahoo at 54.2 pounds, with Carrie Gerber on Cut N Run ($5,000) earning third place with a 47.7-pound fish.
The rest of the overall prize money was divided among multiple teams entered in optional categories. Don’t Blink, Quicktime, Trader’s Hill, Reelentless, Relentless Pursuit, Intense, Aldente, Black Tip, Reel Fire, Get Reel, Chasin’ Tail, Shameless and Big Torch all earned checks for their assorted catch.
Conditions couldn’t have been better for this year’s Classic. Sunny skies, calm seas and plenty of bait greeted the fleet spread across the central Gulf. A total of 48 billfish were released over the 2.5 days of fishing, including 22 blue marlin, six whites, two sailfish and one unknown billfish. Forty-one boats brought fish to the dock, including seven weighed blue marlin, 41 tuna, 25 dolphin and 12 wahoo.
“It was another fantastic event made possible by our great teams, wonderful sponsors and tournament crew,” said MGCBC Director Bobby Carter. “We’re glad everyone could share our slice of paradise this week and we look forward to welcoming y’all back for our 20th anniversary next June.”