Having fished the MS Billfish Classic the first weekend in June, we knew the fishing was likely to be slow and hard as we set out a week later to fish the MS Gulf Coast Big Game Club spring tournament.
I like fishing our local club tournaments, particularly this one, dedicated as the Jeff Alexander Memorial Tournament. I met Jeff not long before he was taken, far too soon. He was a good man and angler. He ran the local Big Game Club Ladies Tournament for years before asking my wife DeeDee and me to take it over when he could no longer continue. We were honored to carry on his proud tradition for the next couple of years.
With snapper season so short, we elected to leave early and catch our limit on the way out. Afterward, we continued south to scout the blue water for current rips before the beginning of the tournament Friday morning. Part of my crew (I won’t specify which ones) decided to form the Vixen drinking team that night, and two of them laid waste to half a gallon of rum. Needless to say, our full fishing team was not operating at 100% the next morning.
We started off working the nice rip we had located and boated a pile of small mahi-mahi and wahoo. On two occasions, we pitched live baits on light tackle to a few nice bull dolphin that Capt. Eric Gill had spotted from Vixen’s tower. This type of sight fishing is one of my favorites, as I love to watch the dolphin chase the bait. A small cow dolphin picked up my bait right behind the boat but she was either playing with me or the bait, as she spit it out each time I tried to set the hook. But finally, I managed to get a hook set and landed the fish.
*** [Published in the Sun Herald on July 7, 2013, p . 6B] ***
Out of the 7 dolphin and half a dozen wahoo, only 3 of the dolphins were large enough to weigh in. “Meat fish,” such as these must weigh over 20 pounds to qualify for most tournaments. That evening we caught one small tuna, and the next morning a couple more, all in the 30 pound range. It was mid morning on Saturday when the right rigger clip popped, the reel went off, and Robert Sandoz climbed into the fighting chair with an angry white marlin on the other end of the line. After a short fight, Stephen Kuljis and Ryan Lawrence wired the fish while we videoed the catch and release to enter the billfish in the tournament.
Just before lines out, Todd Hairston hooked up with a nice mass of floating marsh grass. After a fierce but short fight, we released it and headed for home.
The first time we fished the spring tournament, we stayed offshore overnight and got hammered by Mother Nature, who seemed oblivious to the calm seas forecast. But the extra fishing time enabled us to catch three blue marlin, which we considered quite an impressive feat for two days of fishing in the northern Gulf. Confident that we had won and would be qualified to fish the Rolex Invitational Tournament, we headed back to shore excitedly planning our trip. But we arrived to find that David Fayard on Blue Thunder had caught FOUR blue marlin! While I was happy for him (well sort of) I learned not to count your chickens, or in this case marlin before…
Though we hadn’t set the world on fire during these two days of fishing, as we headed back to shore our hopes were buoyed by the dismal reports we were hearing from other boats. Though most of them were fishing in other tournaments, it was still encouraging to learn that we had done comparatively well.
We arrived early at the Biloxi Schooner Pier to weigh in our fish and certify our billfish video. Typically, winning tuna weigh in excess of 100 pounds. Nevertheless, we weighed our three small tuna ranging in weight from 33-38 pounds, mainly to get credit for the one point-per-pound toward top boat of the year.
Imagine our surprise when Todd Hairston won third place dolphin, Robert Sandoz won second place marlin, and yours truly won first, second, and third place tuna with my petite fish! It seems no one else caught a tuna over 33 lbs. But the real surprise was when we were awarded Top Boat, qualifying us to fish the 2014 Offshore World Championship in Quepos, Costa Rica!
I have to say that we felt honored and humbled. Fishing against solid competitors such as Cheeseburger (whose team caught the only blue marlin in the tournament), Blue Eyes, Blue Thunder, and M.T. Pockets, to name just a few, requires a good bit of luck and it seems this time we got more than our share.
Disclaimer: Frank Wilem is an author, speaker, and all around funny and entertaining guy. On this blog, his stories are based on his real life experiences, often with a satirical twist.
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