June 14, 2020: Biloxi, Mississippi—Despite adverse conditions brought on by the corona pandemic and a tropical storm, the Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic pulled off its 24th edition with panache and fireworks. The 57-boat fleet set a new Gulf of Mexico record with an incredible 101 billfish released during 2.5 days of fishing. Four qualifying blue marlin were boated and impressive pounds of tuna were also tallied. There were two top winners, It Just Takes Time for a 570.2-pound blue, and Born2Run, with the top release score of 10 blue marlin (6,000 points) to its credit.
It Just Takes Time owner/angler Nick Pratt needed about 80 minutes to land the winning marlin. It was weighed Friday night. That fish took first-place honors in the tournament award, crew and several optional marlin categories. The 72 Viking from Orange Beach, with Capt. Chris Hood at the helm, won $213,600. Pratt was asked how the crew felt while waiting on the outcome Saturday.
“At that point there were still a lot of good teams out there competing,” he said. “There was a lot of time left and we didn’t know what would happen. We knew two more were coming in, but we hoped ours would hold on. We just did our part and let the chips fall where they may.”
Angler Joey Geil, Capt. Logan Lovett and the team aboard Lisa Jo, a 55 Scarborough from Orange Beach, boated the second-place blue, weighing in at 527.3 pounds. That catch earned $77,730 in awards and optionals.
Lolita, a 68 Hatteras based in Destin, brought the third-place marlin to the scales at 508.2 pounds. Doug Womac was in the chair while Capt. Jeremy Cox manned the throttles. That fish paid out $40,170. Juan Menchaca, fishing on Doulos, won $50,400 in optional money for the fourth place marlin, a 463.4-pound blue. Doulos, a 68 Hatteras (Capt. Rand Clark), is based in Port Aransas, Texas.
The Release Division was perhaps the most competitive action in Gulf big-game history. The hot bite started Thursday afternoon and it didn’t let up until lines out Saturday. When all the diesel smoke cleared, Born2Run, a 72 Viking based in Pensacola was atop the leaderboard with 10 blue marlin releases, another Gulf record. Owner Dana Foster was on the rod for eight of those releases, while Robert Bonifay and Doug Franklin added one apiece. Myles Colley is the skipper of always competitive Viking and Tyler Maxwell mans the cockpit. Born2Run won $120,825 for its accomplishment.
“What a fun time!” Foster said before Sunday’s awards ceremony. “We heard the radio reports coming in and knew this was not going to be the typical tournament. Normally four or five releases will win it, but we just kept plugging away.” All the marlin were caught on live bait soaked in the Mississippi Canyon.
Nathan Neames and the Reel Fire team (Capt. Chase Lake) was second in the release standings with eight blues on its ledger. A 163.6-pound tuna, good for third place, added to the overall purse of $124,500. Reel Fire is a 76 Viking based in Biloxi. Chris Ferrara is the boat’s owner.
Breathe Easy, a 72 Viking owned by Matt McDonald and run by Capt. Patrick Ivie, took third-place release honors and $65,190 for seven blue marlin releases.
The tuna bite was almost as hot as billfish. Seventeen boats recorded entries of 125 pounds or heavier. Angler Chris Deroche on Gray Mako, a 45 Viking based in Lake Charles, Louisiana, topped the field with a 166.2-pound yellowfin. Todd Rome is Gray Mako’s skipper. That catch was worth $45,450. Pullin’ Wire, a 61 Buddy Davis from Panama City Beach (Capt. Brennan Moore), captured the second-place tuna at 164.7 pounds, good for $36,675. Bree Andrews wound in the behemoth.
Breathe Reel Deep, with Shay Clemons on the rod, was the big winner in the other game fish categories. Their first-place dolphin (25.4 pounds) and third-place wahoo (24.9 pounds) won $78,600 as a result of optional bets. Sweet Liberty took home $38,610 in the wahoo division for first place (77.4 pounds/Hollis Holleman) and second place (44.6/Rachel Wilkinson). Tami Hudson, fishing on Iona Louise, won second-place dolphin honors (and $34,590) for a 23.3-pounder.
“Wow, what an epic showcase of big-game fishing,” Tournament Director Bobby Carter said afterwards. “We’ve never seen anything like that. But it just reinforces the quality of the fishery here in the Gulf and the skills of the teams competing in the Classic. It was an incredible tournament.”
The 2021 Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic will be held June 1-6 at the tournament host Golden Nugget Casino & Hotel.
To learn more or to enter the 2021 Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic please visit www.mgcbc.com.
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