A Classic Event

Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic Makes Waves in the World of Big Game Fishing

Situated between Florida and the fabled fishing waters off the Mississippi River Delta in Louisiana, the Mississippi Coast stayed in the shadows of big-game fishing. That changed in 1997.

  “My dad, Bobby Carter, worked as a casino host bringing high rollers to Mississippi,” recalls Robbie Carter, the event director for Classic Fishing Events, which organizes major saltwater fishing tournaments along the Gulf Coast. “Biloxi was overlooked by the billfishing world at that time. Anglers that ran out of Biloxi were fishing the same waters that the Louisiana boats fished.”

  In 1997, the first Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic took place in Biloxi. That year, 60 boats brought in eight blue marlin. They also tagged and released white marlin and sailfish. The tournament paid out $300,000. People began to take notice.

  “We had fishing rodeos on the coast back then, but nothing of this scale,” Carter says. “Now, the Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic is widely known as the premier billfish tournament in the entire Gulf of Mexico.”

  The Classic ran out of Biloxi every year since 1997, except 2010. That year, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill shut down most saltwater fishing along the Gulf Coast. Instead, the group staged a rock concert.

  “When hurricanes hit the area, we found ways to get around them and hold the tournament,” Carter remarks. “In 2020 during the pandemic, we still fished. It’s a very family-oriented event. We’ve seen some children come up through the event that are now captains running their own boats. That’s really great to see.”

  Each year, the event runs out of the Golden Nugget Casino and Hotel. The boats operate out of Point Cadet Marina. On tournament Thursday, the boats parade before the spectators and then race offshore to their favorite fishing waters. They return Saturday evening to weigh their catch. Besides blue marlin, anglers catch swordfish, tuna, wahoo and dolphin, commonly called mahi. The purse can exceed $2.5 million.

  In 2002, Barry Carr aboard the Sea Wolff brought in a 1,054.60-pound blue marlin. That fish not only set the tournament record, but the Mississippi state record for the species. It remains the largest fish ever weighed in the Magnolia State and one of the largest fish ever caught in the Gulf of Mexico. For that fish, the team won $310,717 and a Ford Excursion.

  Of course, nobody catches a blue marlin alone. In these tournaments, teams of anglers crew the boats and help each other. About 80 to 100 teams normally participate. Many teams spend all week in the Biloxi area and attend various activities throughout the week, making a huge economic impact for the area.

  “We put Biloxi on the map in the sportfishing world,” Carter comments. “People come from all over to fish the Classic. We even attract anglers coming from Caribbean islands to fish in Biloxi. Probably 98 percent of the teams each year come from out of state, but we also have some local fishermen going out with their friends. The tournament runs out of a casino. There’s no other setting of its kind in the sportfishing world. We are very grateful for our hosts and the Southern hospitality involved.”

  The next Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic takes place June 3-9, 2024. For information, see classicfishingevents.com.

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