By Capt. Dave Lear
June 7, 2017, Biloxi, Mississippi:
Stacks of hundred dollar bills are still being carefully counted as the bets add to the growing pot. Yet even as registration for the 2017 Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic draws to a close, this much is apparent—come Thursday morning 120 boats will blast off in search of fame and a hefty payout with over two million dollars on the line.
But unlike previous editions in the Classic’s 20-year history, there is an unusual dynamic this season with the fleet clearly divided into two camps. The largest faction will be trolling spreads and soaking live baits hoping to entice a giant blue marlin or yellowfin tuna the size of a Mini Cooper.
The other, nestled in bean bags and leaning posts aboard mostly outboard-powered center consoles and catamarans, will be deep-dropping sash weights and squid over ledges and mounts hundreds of feet deep. Their quest? A broadbill swordfish large enough to smash the Mississippi record of 75 pounds. The boat that catches the largest fish breaking that record will win $100,000 from the tournament, plus a 2017 Petro Nissan Titan pickup. Another $225,000 payout is possible if the boat also meets the criteria of optional sponsors (Freeman Boats, Hilton’s, Killer Bee Baits, Poseidon Rods and Marshy Tacky Carbon Products). Team Rogue Offshore, a 34 Freeman out of Pensacola, Florida, is among those ready for a sword fight.
“We’re going to get a bite and stay tight,” predicts Capt. William Wall of Venice, Louisiana. “We’re still deciding on the exact plan but we’ll be going to Louisiana, for sure.” The team will drop squid on one rod in search of that desired strike around the clock. Wall is joined by Captains Quint Higdon and Steven Bordelon, plus Rogue Offshore Apparel owner Jason Tyson and a couple other guests.
“The tournament has gotten a good response to this swordfish division,” Wall adds. “I’m glad they’re doing it. It’s the only one of its kind in the gulf.”
Titan-Up, a 64 Viking based in Galveston, Texas, is another player in the broadbill division. The crew consists of several “ringers,” including Capt. Jeff Wilson, who holds the Texas swordfish record of 493 pounds and RJ Boyle of Fort Lauderdale. Wilson was among those who helped develop the daytime swordfishery in the Gulf of Mexico.
“There’s a lot of valleys and hills on the bottom out there,” Wilson explains. “We’re going to be fishing structure, using Shimano Talica 50 reels. They may be a little light for a big one, but we’re sporty.” He predicts it will take a 300-pound plus fish to claim the top prize.
Boats fishing in the swordfish division will be allowed to weigh up to three fish per day. They can also opt to release broadbills less than 60 inches (lower jaw fork length) and compete for additional jackpot money.
So will a new record be set? The odds are very favorable with this level of skill, experience and motivation. But the cuts and gashes won’t be noticeable until the scales finally close Saturday night.