19th Annual Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic: Dollars and Sense
BILOXI, Miss. – To the casual observer, a few figures immediately stand out about the Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic. The length and weight of the trophy fish are always impressive. So is the overall prize money, which is more than $1.2 million this year. The Classic is among a handful of elite tournaments that consistently top the million-dollar mark every season and the chance to win hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single fish certainly gets the attention of someone not familiar with the sport. But there are lots of other monetary aspects to consider as well.
The entry fee for the Classic is $5,000 and the accumulated total from all the boats pays first through third places in tournament awards for each eligible species of fish. Those tournament awards are worth thousands of dollars. The optional entry awards are additional categories that teams can choose to enter. Levels range from $500 to $10,000 for each species, plus the catch and release division. Basically these optional entries are like bets, where the team is betting they will catch the largest fish for an additional payout. Those cash prizes total in the thousands of dollars as well.
But to seriously compete at this level requires a substantial investment, starting with the boat. Multi-outboard center consoles easily top the $100,000 mark while the large sport-fishing yachts are a multi-million dollar investment. The captain on a corporate boat earns $1,000 to $1,200 per foot of boat length, on the average, while a full-time professional mate will take home $40,000 or more annually. The provisions and gear add up quickly too.
(Capt. Dave Lear photo)
Diesel fuel at the marina is selling for $2.68 per gallon and the average tournament boat will burn 1,500 gallons during the course of the event. Ice sells for $7 for a 40-pound bag. It’ll set you back $8.95 for a 12-pack of ballyhoo or $3.95 for a pair of large squid. Most boats will carry at least eight 80 Wide reel and custom rod combos that have sticker prices around $1,500 each. A 3,500-yard spool of 100-pound test line retails for $169. That’s only enough to fill three of those big reels.
Each boat spends around $600 or more for food for the weekend, which is a big boost for local grocery stores. But the economic impact certainly doesn’t stop there. The anglers, crew and guests are eating at local restaurants, shopping at retail stores and hiring taxi cabs. The host Golden Nugget Casino Resort is filled to capacity and the gaming tables are busy. Other Biloxi resorts are also full. Food, beverage and fuel distributors are going full tilt, along with all types of service-related businesses. Workers in Biloxi and Ocean Springs are earning more money on tips and overtime. The trickle-down effect from this one tournament spreads all across the Mississippi Gulf Coast and it lasts much longer than just one week.
“The Classic has been a huge economic boost for the local economy for 19 years and counting,” says Tournament Director Bobby Carter. “Granted, big-game fishing is not an inexpensive hobby. And yes, we do pay out large sums of money to the winners. But these boats spend a lot more than that while they are here and that helps support a lot of local jobs, so it really is a win-win situation for everyone.”