Meet Katie Gonsoulin

What it takes to join a world-class team

katie gonsoulin wearing sunglasses and a pink shirt
Gonsoulin's largest blue marlin to date: 740.6 pounds, the winning fish in the 2018 Orange Beach Billfish Classic.Capt. Dave Lear

Jon Gonsoulin, Capt. Jason Buck and the Done Deal team, fishing aboard Gonsoulin's Houma, Louisiana-based 70-foot Viking, have been consistent front-runners in the Gulf of Mexico tournament circuit for years. But once Jon's daughter—22-year-old Katie—joined the team as their dedicated angler in 2017, they reached even higher levels of achievement. With Katie in the chair, the team has won numerous events, including an unprecedented third Gulf Coast Triple Crown Championship. Along the way, they've caught near-record-size fish and pocketed millions in prize money. We sat down with the personable young woman to learn more about what it takes to join a world-class team.

Q: How did you get started on the high-stakes billfish tournament circuit?

A: I was with my mom when Done Deal won the Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic several years ago. I loved the whole atmosphere and thought, 'I really want to do that.' I caught my first billfish when I was about 15 and once I finished high school, my dad let me start competing in tournaments with him. That was in the summer of 2017.

Q: What is your most memorable catch?

A: It's kind of a tie. The 502-pound bluefin tuna we caught a couple of years ago stands out. It was crazy and my dad was so excited. He hadn't seen one in years, so he was just over the moon. I didn't realize how special it was until he told me how rare they are now. The other was the marlin I weighed in the 2018 Blue Marlin Grand Championship after an eight-hour battle. The leader was wrapped around the dorsal fin and it weighed 640.8 pounds. That was the longest fight of my life and it was just insane to finally land that fish after so much time. I was so tired, I fell out of the chair afterward.

Q: What was going through your mind during those eight hours?

A: They touched the leader several times, but the fish was still green, so we had to keep going. I kept thinking, 'God, I hope we get it.' I just had to focus on the excitement, backing down on that fish. My mom had a million people on Facebook all cheering for us and a ton of our friends came to the weigh-in. So that was just awesome.

katie gonsoulin in a fighting chair
As the team’s designated angler, Gonsoulin relies on using good form when fighting tournament-contending blue marlin, almost exclusively utilizing heavy tackle from the chair.Courtesy Done Deal

Q: Was that your biggest marlin?

A: No, my biggest blue was 740.6 pounds, which we caught in the 2018 Orange Beach Billfish Classic. It was only an hour and 15-minute fight—nothing compared with this one.

Q: You fish with your dad. What role has your mom played in your development as an angler?

A: She is the dockside social-media director—letting everyone know what's going on—and she's my cheerleader. She fished offshore her whole life before I was even involved, so she got me excited about the sport.

Q: Where else have you fished besides the Gulf of Mexico?

A: Costa Rica, St. Thomas, the Dominican Republic. I've never caught a really big fish at any of those places. It was more quantity over quality. I've also fished the Lone Star Shootout and the Poco Bueno in Texas. I'd love to go to Cape Verde to see what that's all about. But mostly I fish the Gulf Coast Triple Crown Championship events.

Q: Besides your dad, who else has coached you?

A: Lance Hightower was our former mate and he wanted me to really learn how to fish. Christopher "Westy" Marshall helped with my form and taught me how to read the signs and use everything to my advantage. Nick Bovell is incredibly talented: He's fished all over the world and he's taught me what everything means, such as adjusting the drag and what the fish is going to do. Scott Sullivan and Vic Lott—it's all a group effort. Our team has headsets now, so we can talk to each other during the fight. Nick is always in my ear, giving me pointers, telling jokes and keeping it light. And Jason [Capt. Jason Buck] offers lots of encouragement and motivation. He knows everything that's going on; he's incredible.

Q: What’s your favorite moment on the water?

A: When we first hook up and everyone is freaking out. When the double line comes up, that adrenaline rush is something you can't ever explain. I enjoy being with the crew; they're all so hysterical, and they kid me all the time. And I love the tournament atmosphere. There's so much camaraderie. I've met so many great people in this sport.

Q: Any lucky charms?

A: We have a T-shirt that belonged to my uncle who passed away a little more than a year ago. We keep it on the boat and put it on the fighting chair so his spirit can watch over us.

Q: What do you do to prepare for a fight that could possibly last for hours?

A: I don't work out regularly, although I should. Mostly I have to be sure to eat something in the mornings. We keep a whole tray of Rouse's egg rolls on the boat. Eating and staying hydrated beforehand really helps.

Team Done Deal at the orange Billfish Classic
Gonsoulin led the Done Deal team to victory in the 2018 Orange Beach Billfish Classic, landing this 740.6-pound blue marlin in just one hour and 15 minutes.Courtesy Orange Beach Billfish Classic

Q: Are you competitive by nature?

A: With this, yes, I like to win. Who doesn't? I played volleyball, softball and basketball when I was in junior high. Once I reached 10th grade though, I spent my spare time duck hunting.

Q: Do you put pressure on yourself during a tournament?

A: This is high stakes. I want to bring in a fish for my family and friends to be able to share that excitement with all of them. My crew works so hard all the time and they deserve it. And my dad absolutely loves this, so yes, I guess I do.

Read more about Gonsoulin's win in the 2018 Orange Beach Billfish Classic.

Q: Do you see yourself as a role model?

A: I had two little girls come up asking for my autograph after the Grand Championship weigh-in and I thought, 'You want my autograph?' That surprised me. Women are always shouting, 'Go girl!' But I don't really see myself as different from the male anglers. We're one of the few boats with a dedicated chair hog, and the guys tell me women take direction better than men. So those are the only real differences.

Q: What’s next?

A: I recently graduated from Louisiana State University and I'm now enrolled in law school at LSU. I'm not sure what type of law I want to practice, maybe corporate maritime. Whatever I end up doing, I sure hope I'm still marlin fishing 10 years from now. —Capt. Dave Lear