By Capt. Dave Lear
June 9, 2017; Biloxi, Mississippi:
The first round of fights are over. The outcome on many more is yet to be decided.
The weigh scales at the Point Cadet Marina were christened Friday night as four noteworthy billfish were weighed. The first two broke the existing Mississippi record for swordfish—75 pounds—only to be eclipsed a short time later by a sizable margin. The only blue marlin for the night is worth a potential million dollars, if no others are weighed during the tournament. And at this point, that’s a big if.
First on the leaderboard was angler JW Catt, fishing aboard Peacekeeper (Big Daddy), a 34 Freeman catamaran. His 102.47-pound broadbill was quickly topped when his buddy, BJ Crookshank, weighed another fish. It registered 120.39 pounds. Both easily broke the existing state record, but in order to win the guaranteed jackpot of $100,000, plus a Nissan Titan pick-up, it must be the largest overall. Additional cash prizes based on special criteria could bump the overall swordfish winnings to more than $300,000.
Before the scales closed though, the leaderboard would change again as Sea Cruiser/Tails Up tied up to the dock. As the third swordfish was hauled off the 35 Contender (owned by Don Jackson), the size difference was noticeable. Weigh master Jack Teschel confirmed that to the large crowd in the grandstands a few minutes later—219.73 pounds. A tired Scotty Bivona of Destreham, Louisiana, was on the rod to whip that fish, which measured 80.25 inches long (lower jaw to fork length) with a girth of 41 inches.
“That was my first sword and the fight lasted 3.5 hours,” Bivona says. “My back is killing me, but it was very exciting.” The team was fishing a Killer B squid bait in 1,200 feet of water off Louisiana when the catch was made. They planned to fuel up and run back out to resume fishing.
But the epic battle so far took place aboard Breathe Easy, a 68 Viking owned by Matt McDonald of Orange Beach, Alabama. The team is certainly familiar with the Gulf circuit awards stage after capturing the Triple Crown Championship in 2016. But Capt. Patrick Ivie never encountered a fish like the one that ate a live skipjack tuna about 6:30 Thursday evening.
“It was perfect, gorgeous conditions with some scattered grass,” Ivie explains. “The fish jumped 10 times on the strike and we didn’t think it was that big at first. But it turned out to be the meanest blue marlin I’ve ever seen. Rick Olsen was on the rod and for the first four hours we had 16 pounds of drag on the 130 reel. The next two hours we bumped up to 20 pounds of drag and the last two we had 26 pounds. That fish was jumping four hours into the fight. We wired her about 20 times and every time she’d swim with the boat, upright. That was the hardest fighting marlin I’ve had in nearly 20 years of blue water fishing.
“It was a total team effort. Yes, it got testy at times. Everyone was getting tired. But we settled down and waited for the opportunity and it finally came. That fish was incredible,” Ivie added. From the hook-up until the marlin was finally boated, the fight lasted 8 hours and 15 minutes.
“After about five hours I thought one of us is going to give up and I wasn’t sure it wouldn’t be me,” Olsen said after the weight of 501.75 pounds was announced. “It was a full eight-hour work day with no lunch break, but I’m glad I was able to hang in there.”
Breathe Easy’s fish measured 109.25 inches long with a 56-inch girth. The team is entered across the board in the optional jackpot categories, so if it turns out to be the only qualifying marlin it would be worth an impressive $1 million.
But there’s still plenty of fishing time remaining and a lot can still happen. The scales open again at 3 p.m. Saturday; boats weighing fish must be inside the channel markers by 6 p.m. to qualify. Besides marlin and swordfish, other eligible fish include tuna, wahoo and dolphin. The catch and release billfish division is still up for grabs too.