Deb Hebert has been involved in life-or-death situations and weathered the fury of hurricanes, but she has seldom been in a situation as exhilarating or draining as the one she faced during the Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic (MCGBC).
Hebert, an emergency room doctor and lieutenant colonel who has flown with the Keesler Air Force Base's famed Hurricane Hunters, hooked into the first blue marlin of her two-year fishing career on the Iona Louise, the boat owned by Joe Hudson, her boyfriend, based out of Montgomery, Ala.
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More than three hours later, the petite Hebert prevailed over the big fish and the 127 ½-inch blue marlin was boated. When Iona Louise and crew weighed in at Biloxi's Golden Nugget Casino and Point Cadet Marina, the huge marlin registered 843.7 pounds.
"This was one of the most exciting experiences I've ever had," said Hebert, a fitness buff who has completed 13 marathons. "It was incredible. I've only been fishing for two years and this was my first blue marlin. I've caught and tagged white marlin, but this is my first blue."
Despite being in top physical condition, Hebert said the three-plus-hour fight posed a new set of challenges for her body.
"My arms are so sore, I can hardly straighten them out," she said. "I've got bruises today that I didn't even know I was getting when I was fighting the fish."
Hebert, who works in the ER at South Baldwin Medical Center in Foley, Ala., wasn't finished, though. After the boat weighed in the blue marlin, the 68-foot Hatteras headed back out in the Gulf of Mexico, where Hebert tagged a white marlin and caught a 38.6-pound dolphin that finished in third place.
At Sunday's awards banquet, Hebert was honored as Lady Angler of the event. The 843.7-pound blue was the largest marlin caught by a female angler in the tournament's 18-year history. Iona Louise, which took home $195,000 from the $1.1 million purse, also won the top crew award and will represent the MGCBC in the Offshore World Championship next year.
Andy Ryan of Memphis, fishing with friends aboard Patience out of Orange Beach, Ala., took second in the marlin division with a blue that hit 680.1 pounds on the scales.
The perseverance award had to go to Tim Falzone and the team of Reel Worthless, a 64-foot Viking based out of Brandon, Miss. The boat caught on fire at the Point Cadet dock before the tournament started and suffered extensive damage, which left the crew dead in the water until they teamed up with Reel Fuelish, a 60-foot Skulley.
Despite the fact the new boat wasn't optimized for big-game fishing, Falzone managed to land a 539.1-pound blue that was worth $142,660 in cash and prizes.
Conundrum, a 61-foot Viking out of Orange Beach, took the catch-and-release title with 1,200 points after releasing two blue marlin.
Seven yellowfin tuna that surpassed the 100-pound mark were weighed in during Saturday's final round. Leading the way was Brian Replogle on Blue Smoker out of Orange Beach. Replogle's tuna weighed 173.3 pounds, followed by a 158.5-pound yellowfin caught by Bradley Dudly on Rise Up out of Destin, Fla. Jason Benton on Don't Blink out of Sandestin landed the third-place tuna at 147.4.
The top two places in the dolphin division went to Bloodsport, a 38-foot Luhrs out of Orange Beach. Brad Laquer's fish weighed 43.3, while Pip Aljazra weighed in a 39.9-pounder.
In the wahoo division, Jimmy Reynolds on Marlin Darlin prevailed with a 67.5-pounder, followed by lady angler Taylor Harvey on Four Reel at 66.3, and James Calloway on Cotton Patch at 61.3.