By Capt. Dave Lear
June 11, 2017; Biloxi, Mississippi:
Blame it on a wet spring, the absentee Loop Current or the usual scapegoat El Nino. Whatever the case, many long-time Gulf anglers agree the start of the 2017 big-game season has been slow to develop. All that changed, however, as fishing in the MGCBC ended Saturday night. Favorable weather, the full moon and a record 120 boats brought a cavalcade of quality entries to the scales, making the leaderboard change faster than a runway model. It wasn’t limited to one category, either.
Mollie, a 66 G&S based in Destin and a perennial contender, was the first to make its mark. Thomas Cornelison of Pensacola, Florida, put his team on top with a 654.52 blue marlin, landed after a 50-minute fight. The 115-inch fish ate a live tuna and when she first jumped the crew knew it was a keeper marlin.
“She jumped several times in front of us and the other boats fishing in the area,” Cornelison says. “We leadered her a few times before finally sinking the gaff. This is my biggest marlin yet and my first boated fish.” Mollie ran 280 miles one way before putting lines out. The boat also had four blue marlin releases, with three on live bait and a single on a Mold Craft Wide Range lure.
Jeff Friedman of Perdido Key, Florida, and Team Aries were next at the scales. The 76 Viking hooked their blue near the Thunderhorse Rig shortly after putting a small blackfin tuna out at dawn. During the 25-minute battle on 80-pound class tackle, the fish jumped into the hull and broke its bill. It still weighed 668.77 pounds, good for first place. The tournament committee later reviewed the damaged bill and determined the catch was allowable.
Two other boats would weigh blues on Saturday. Dana Foster, owner of Born2Run, a 72 Viking, boated a 563.92 blue and also released three others. All were caught Friday near the Who Dat rig on live bait.
Trent Candler, fishing aboard Double J, a 42 Freeman, recorded the last blue of the night, which tipped the scales at 553.43 pounds. It measured one-half inch longer than the new minimum of 107 inches.
In the competitive swordfish division, the standings changed almost from boat to boat. The special prize money for the largest fish breaking the Mississippi record was a big incentive and several crews were manned by experienced broadbill experts. In the end, Scott Cothran of Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, is the potential new record-holder by outlasting his 242.54-pound fish after an hour battle aboard Pay Dirt, a 37 Freeman. It ate a Killer B squid and was whipped on a Shimano Talica 50 reel and Poseidon rod.
“I’m in disbelief,” Cothran said after the weight was announced. “I’d like to say it was all me, but we teamed up to form the best crew of Gulf and Atlantic pros and used the best tackle. I was just the one who stepped up and grabbed the rod first.”
The tuna division was almost as hectic as the swords. Makaira (Dylan Doubleday), Patron (Frank Shumate) and Trader’s Hill (14-year-old Drew Marshall) all grabbed the early lead. Finally another teenager, 14-year-old Ryan Cooper, captured the top spot with 201.06 pounds of massive yellowfin. Cooper was fishing on CE, his dad’s 65 Hatteras, based in Point Clear, Alabama. Most of the top fish were caught on lures, including red San Sal Candy, Joe Yee green and yellow plunger and an Australian-made Blue Dog, respectively.
Several respectable wahoo came to the scales before Neal Foster (Intense) vaulted to the top with a pair weighing 80.13 and 72.7 pounds for the top two places. Those fish were fooled by a hardtail and ballyhoo.
Only one dolphin met the 20-pound minimum weight. Brian Leiser on Hot, Black and Sticky landed a 42.97-pound bull on a ballyhoo to sweep the category.
In the close catch and release divisions (billfish and swordfish) Mollie took first place with 2,400 points while Shockwave was the top sword boat with 7 points.
The 2017 Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic will wrap up Sunday morning with an awards breakfast at the host Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino. More than $2 million in cash prizes—a new tournament record—will be distributed to the winning teams.