It was the ideal formula for success. With 81 of the top boats in the sport, more than $1.7 million dollars at stake and excellent fishing combined with perfect weather, the prize money had to be spread out. That’s exactly what happened as multiple teams pocketed six-figure checks at the conclusion of the 20th anniversary Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic Sunday.
“Winner, winner, chicken dinner,” was Johnny Dorland’s reaction after Cotton Patch earned the top team award for a 633-pound blue marlin weighed Friday night. Combined with optional entries, Cotton Patch won $176,000 for its efforts. Dorland is also skipper of the Hatteras 60, based in Orange Beach, Alabama, while Clint Herring was on the rod.
Angler Jeff Spangler and Capt. Eddie Vanmeter and their crew aboard the Insetta Boatworks 45 won the second-place blue marlin honors with a 597.4-pound fish, good for a $47,500 payout. Carrie Gerber and Capt. Geoff Collins on Cut N Run, a 64 Tribute, won $116,000 for the third-place marlin that tipped the scales at 506.3 pounds. Gerber was also named the top lady angler for the tournament.
With Capt. Patrick Ivie at the helm, owner Matt McDonald and his team aboard Breathe Easy, a 68 Viking, captured the fourth-largest marlin, a 416.5-pound blue. With the optional entries, however, that fish garnered the top payout of $232,875.
“I’m very tired but excited also,” McDonald said. “We had quite the adventure, yet we accomplished what we set out to do. This crew really wants to compete.”
Ryan and Jerry Long, fishing aboard Mollie, a 66 G&S with Capt. Jeff Shoults, also had a good weekend. Ryan scored with a 398.2 blue, while Jerry added the second place dolphin at 40.9 pounds. With optionals and the dolphin prize, Mollie took home $175,730. J.J. Tabor on Double J, a 37 Freeman, caught the largest dolphin at 41.7 pounds, good for $19,000, while Mike Akui on Relentless Pursuit, a 95 John Smith, captured third with a 39.9-pounder. Add in an optional tuna prize and Team Relentless Pursuit won a $93,965 share of the pot.
Sea Mixer, a 66 Spencer, was named the top Catch and Release Team with 1,800 points, good for $159,975. Devin Potts is the Sea Mixer’s skipper. Mono Chongo, a 61 Viking, won $129,285, followed by Pour Intentions, a 56 Viking, $34,290. Other boats earning checks for releasing billfish include A Work of Art, Born2Run and Done Deal.
In the close tuna division, Peacekeeper, a 31 AmeriCat, took top money ($120,250) for its 179.6-pound yellowfin, followed by First Choice ($84,275) with a 178.3 fish and You Never Know! ($87,505) for a 172.3-pounder.
The crew of The Kraken, a 33-foot Conch Boatworks center console, slapped a 96.6-pound wahoo on the deck, good for a $28,675 check. Team Intense, a 39 Contender, came in second with 86-pound wahoo ($105,530) while Nicki Bella settled for third (73.4 pounds) and $30,695 consolation prize. Other boats earning checks in optional categories include Black Tip, Lolita, OIFC, One More, Over Ride, and Tailwalker. Fifteen-year-old Brynn King on No Weiser was named the tournament’s top junior angler.
“With more than $1.75 million in prize money and the number of boats, this was definitely the smoothest event we’ve held in the last decade,” Tournament Coordinator Bert Merritt said at the conclusion of the awards ceremony. “The eight blue marlin were the most we’ve ever weighed in a single tournament, but the 87 percent release rate was even more impressive considering the amount of fish on the dock. We are already looking forward to next year. The 2017 Classic is scheduled for June 5-11 right here on the beautiful Mississippi Gulf Coast.”
The Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Biloxi serves as the Classic host. Platinum sponsors include Miller Lite, Release Marine, Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast, the City of Biloxi, Smith Optics, Yeti Coolers and Gorenflo’s Tackle and Marina Store.