It’s one of the highest-energy tournaments on the Gulf Coast, and now there’s a new record for the total payout in the Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic at over $1.7 million. Celebrating its 16th anniversary this year, the popular event is a highlight of the summer marlin fishing season in the Gulf of Mexico.
This year’s 81 participating teams would be treated to some great fishing as well. Topping the list was Johnny Dorland’s Cotton Patch team. They bested a 633-pound blue marlin to take home first place in the big-fish division, worth $176,000 in cash.
“We started off live-baiting around a few rigs and eventually ended up around the Blind Faith,” Dorland said. “There were several other boats already there and we had a hard time catching bait, so I told the guys to put the lures out: we would troll to another rig about 10 miles away. We made it about a mile and the right rigger lure just got crushed.” The black and purple lure disappeared in a classic blue marlin crash bite, but the team didn’t get a good look at the fish at first. “We saw the bill and the dorsal fin so we knew it was a blue marlin, but we didn’t know how big it was until she came up jumping after we got the leader,” Dorland reported. With Clint Herring on the rod and Dorland’s son Travis doing a masterful job on the leader, the team fought the fish patiently, not wanting to risk pulling the hook with too much pressure. They were rewarded with a clean gaff shot, which resulted in victory.
But the tournament was far from a runaway. The Insetta Boatworks team brought in a blue marlin that would make a serious run up the leaderboard. Their 597.4-pound fish fell just short of the mark set by Dorland and Cotton Patch, but would hold up as the second-largest blue marlin of the tournament. Jeffrey Spangler was the angler on the fish.
Carrie Gerber on Cut N Run had the third-place blue marlin, a 506.3-pound fish. But it would be Matt McDonald’s Breathe Easy taking home the lion’s share of the tournament purse for their fourth-place marlin. The team pocketed $232,875, thanks to their 416.5-pound blue. They were entered in all of the event’s optional jackpots, which resulted in their larger payoff.
In the catch and release division, Sea Mixer took home the first-place prize and $159,975. They were the first of four teams to release three blue marlin in the tournament. Sea Mixer was followed by Mono Chongo, Pour Intentions and Born2Run in second, third and fourth places respectively. Peacemaker had the biggest tuna at 179.6 pounds, The Kraken boated the largest wahoo, a 96.6-pound beast, and the top mahimahi, a 41.7-pound fish, was caught by JJ Tabor on Double J.