June 09, 2015
BILOXI, Miss. – Tournament Director Bobby Carter couldn’t have scripted it any better. With just a few short hours until the 60-boat fleet motors out the channel and into the Gulf, the weather is calm and clear and expected to stay that way through the weekend. Better yet, the seas are slicker than fish slime. Cobalt-blue water is close, the offshore current is humming along and the bait is stacked up. That all adds up to the perfect stage for the 19th annual Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic. And with more than $1.2 million on the line in overall prize money, the teams competing in this big-game event are playing for keeps.
“We’re here for one thing and that’s to win it all,” says Jon Gonsoulin of Houma, Louisiana, owner of Done Deal, a 70 Viking convertible. Gosselin and his experienced crew are certainly familiar with the winner’s circle, having captured the top prizes in numerous events. The boat was rigged with twin auxiliary fuel bladders and planned to fish along the way. Other contestants also intend to put distance between the other boats.
“We’re going to run to the fence line to get to the rigs other boats can’t reach,” says Capt. Joey Birbeck. “We’ll use our speed and range to get away from the fleet.” Birbeck is skipper of You Never Know!, a 72 F&S owned by Thomas Turner of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They planned to live bait in the mornings and troll in the afternoon.
“Live baiting is the new thing,” Birbeck explains. “Everybody has tuna tubes now and that’s really changed the game. But I love the competition and there’s a lot of really good fishermen out here, so it’s wide open for starters.”
Capt. Myles Colley is sticking with his normal game plan, albeit on a different boat this season. Colley guided the combined Reel Worthless team to several top wins in 2014 and he’s hoping to do it again aboard Born2Run, a Hatteras 63 GT based in Pensacola, Florida. The boat, owned by Dana Foster of Pensacola, won third place Catch and Release in the Canyons Classic tour-nament last week in Venice.
“We’re just going fishing,” the soft-spoken skipper says. “I plan to live bait and just stick with it. It’s been working so far.” Colley reports excellent conditions offshore with clear blue water just 20 miles off the mouth of the Mississippi River. There’s not too much floating grass around and the current isn’t too strong, he adds.
“Fishing ought to be great,” Colley says. “I think it’ll take a 600-pounder or better to win this week. There hasn’t been a really big fish caught yet this year, so we’re due.”
Lines go in this afternoon as soon as the boats clear the outer marker buoy and fishing continues until later Saturday. All boats must be in by 8 p.m. Saturday with qualifying fish. The weigh scales, which are open to the public, open at 3 p.m. both Friday and Saturday. They close at 8 p.m. on Friday and whenever the last fish is weighed on Saturday night. The scales are located at the Point Cadet Marina, behind the host Golden Nugget Casino Resort in Biloxi.
So the stage is set. The curtain is coming up. Let the 2015 drama begin.