June 10, 2016; Biloxi, Mississippi:
By Capt. Dave Lear
When four out of the first six fish weighed for the 2016 Classic all top the previous year’s overall category winners, it’s not just a good start. It’s a red hot, three alarm, burnt to the crisp sizzler and the 80 boats still fishing have nearly 24 hours before they have to be back at the Point Cadet Marina.
Fourteen-year-old Sawyer Henderson of Destin, Florida, got the party started by weighing a 73.4-pound wahoo. He was fishing aboard Nicki Bella, which developed engine trouble early Thursday afternoon. Trolling on one engine, the boat raised three wahoo. A big one was hooked but quickly broke off. Henderson, who says he’s been fishing all his young life, made short work of the second after it ate a pink chugger lure. If it holds on to first place, it will be a nice early birthday present for his special day Monday. With the bad engine Nicki Bella is done for the weekend, leaving 80 boats remaining in the 2016 fleet.
Jeffrey Spangler was the first angler to wake up and grab the rod when a blue marlin ate the live skipjack tuna trailing behind the Insetta factory boat. After a four-hour fight (a second fish was also hooked but lost), the St. Mary’s, Georgia boat-builder boated the blue, which tipped the scales at 597.4 pounds. The team refueled and headed back out in first place, albeit briefly.
Cotton Patch, a 60 Hatteras owned and run by Johnny Dorland of Orange Beach, Alabama, was the next boat to back into the slip. It took a small army of handlers to hoist the 117-inch blue out of the cockpit and up to the scales. When Weigh Master Jack Teschel announced the weight—633 pounds—a roar erupted as the leaderboard was updated. Clint Herring, also from Orange Beach, was on the rod for the fight.
“We were near Blind Faith, about 128 miles from Biloxi and we had just given up live baiting and put out a trolling spread,” says mate Travis Dorland. “No sooner did we get ‘em out, that fish ate a purple and black lure. The fight was about an hour and a half on 100-pound test line.”
Capt. Peace Marvel of Venice, Louisiana, and his team aboard Peacekeeper, a 31-foot AmeriCat outboard-powered catamaran, were the last to come in Friday night. After earning a couple early spots on the leaderboard with a pair of dolphin (30.3 and 21.8 pounds), angler J.W. Catt of Bismarck, North Dakota, hoisted a 179.6-pound yellowfin tuna aloft. That fish, captured on a Shimano Tiagra 80 Wide reel loaded with 130-pound line, is his personal best.
“We were trolling a ballyhoo skirted with a blue and white Islander lure along a rip line,” Marvel explained. “We were fishing big baits because we were fishing for one big fish. I’m cautiously optimistic it’ll hold on to first place. If I was completely confident, we wouldn’t be fueling up and heading back out there.”
The scales open again at 3 p.m. tomorrow, behind the host Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino. Boats must be checked in by 8 p.m. in order to weigh fish. And if today is any indication, it’ll be early Sunday morning before the embers finally go out.