Thanks in part to a rebounding economy and a beautiful weather forecast, the 2017 Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic hosted a record fleet of 120 teams, fishing out of Biloxi, Mississippi, for a tournament record of more than $2 million in total prize money. A bonus for the team breaking the current state record by landing the event’s largest swordfish also helped boost participation; the level of competition was greater than ever for the 21st anniversary tournament.
The team fishing with Capt. Russell Craft on Aries, a 76-foot Viking, had the lucky hand this year. Angler Jeff Friedman and family members Darin, Matthew and Jason Friedman, along with deckhand Hollis Legg, landed a 668.77-pound blue marlin that was the heaviest of the tournament. This was despite the fish losing its bill during the battle. Their marlin earned them $397,925.
Despite finishing in second place, Capt. Jeff Shoults, Thomas Cornelison and the team on Mollie earned the most cash. Fishing on their 68-foot G&S, the team caught the second-largest blue marlin at 654.52 pounds and released another four to earn top release team honors. Their tournament tally was just over $403,000.
Another familiar name, Born2Run, landed in third place. Dana Foster, Capt. Myles Colley and company bested a 563.92-pound blue marlin on their 72-foot Viking and also scored cash in the release division, good for $242,940.
Competition in the swordfish division was especially intense, due in part to a bonus of $325,000 and a new Nissan Titan truck on the line for the largest sword breaking the current Mississippi state record of just 75 pounds. In the end, the Pay Dirt team of angler Scott Cothran and Capt. Ryan Kelly, fishing out of their 37-foot Freeman, won the lion’s share of the cash with a 242.54-pound swordfish.
In the tuna division, 14-year-old Ryan Cooper on CE bested a fat 201.06-pound yellowfin to win that category. Neal Foster and the Intense team scored big with the first- and second-place wahoo at 80.13 and 72.7 pounds to win over $112,000, and the Hot, Black and Sticky team of angler Brian Leiser and Capt. Jeff Theiry earned $108,000 for the tournment’s only qualifying mahimahi, a 42.97-pounder.