June 9, 2016; Biloxi, Mississippi:
By Capt. Dave Lear
With turbo-chargers wound up, tanks full and gear rigged, the 81 boats competing in the 2016 Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic are churning through the Gulf right now. All are heading towards that sweet spot where the prize-winning blue marlin, yellowfin tuna and other game fish await. With a record $1.7 million up for grabs, the exact spot to fish is debated, discussed, pondered, studied and debated some more. The runs often exceed 100 miles, so the decision is not made lightly.
“There’s a big loop current below Independence Hub that’s been formed for about a month,” says Tom Hilton, president of Hilton’s Fishing Charts, an offshore forecasting service. “The center is about 160 miles southeast of Biloxi, but the best areas are going to be on the leading outer edges. Water color is another part of the equation and those areas with electric and cobalt blue water will be the prime places to fish. I’ll bet it’ll be a parking lot out there.”
Hilton says the waters around Deepwater Proteus, an oil rig, have been attracting lots of big yellowfin tuna in the 150- to 180-pound class. So it should draw a fair share of boats this weekend as well.
“For those boats that want to get away from the crowd, another loop current is forming west of the Green Canyon,” he adds. “But that’s a 200-plus mile run, which is a limiting factor for many.”
The location decision is an easy one for Capt. Joey Birbeck, skipper of You Never Know!, a 72-foot F&S owned by Thomas Turner of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. For starters, he’s going right back to the same area where he’s seen 12 blue marlin over the last three weeks. The boat earned top release honors in the recent Cajun Canyons Classic with two blues and caught another and boated a 647-pound bluefin tuna in the Mobile Big Game Club’s Memorial Weekend event.
“I’m going back to the boat and look at the forecast charts again, but unless something has drastically changed, we’re going right back out there,” Birbeck said after Wednesday’s captains meeting. “It’s always a team decision as to where we finally fish, though. And we have enough fuel and range to run to a second spot if the first one doesn’t pan out. There’s always a Plan B.”
Birbeck predicted it would take at least a 700-pounder to win this weekend and that prognosis suits Tournament Director Bobby Carter just fine.
“We’ve got the largest number of boats since 2004 and the $1.7 million in prize money is a new record for the Classic,” Carter says. “I’m happy to have all these boats join us on the Mississippi Gulf Coast this week. The weather is going to be great and we’re going to have some really big fish brought to the scales, I’m certain of it.”
The fleet could put lines in as soon as they cleared the Biloxi jetty Thursday afternoon. Nearly all will put some miles under the hulls, however, until they get closer to that special spot. It’s called Location X, the place where grander blue marlin prowl and fame and glory await.