GULFPORT -- The opening day of the annual Mississippi Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo brought out large crowds and huge fish Thursday to the Barksdale Pavilion at Jones Park.
Gulfport is hosting the 66th annual event for the 59th time and officials are very pleased with the initial turnout from spectators and competitors for the four-day event.
"It's been good so far," said Mark Wright, rodeo weighmaster. "We have a total of 30 entries so far. Most folks are still working today. Their holiday starts tomorrow."
One of those participants taking advantage of the day was Gulfport's Chris Stapp, who has been competing in the rodeo for about 30 years off and on.
Stapp weighed in a pair of fish on the first day -- a 20-pound shark and a 70-pound stingray. He's hoping to land a trout or redfish to take top honors.
"My honey-hole didn't produce today," said Stapp, who regularly won the military division of the rodeo.
Regular local angler David Saucier of Gulfport had two of the larger fish on the first day. His 112-pound, 9-ounce stingray and 32-pound, 8-ounce red fish topped the scales.
Cash and prizes are up for grabs in over 20 freshwater and saltwater categories.
Officials are optimistic some rodeo records will fall this weekend. There has not been a rodeo record broken since 2006 when Donnie Simmons of Pass Christian brought in a 99-pound, 8-ounce amberjack.
"We're hoping to get a record," said Wright. "The way we consolidated the freshwater categories, there's a possibility of a record-breaker."
There were plenty of folks lined up to see the big ones laid out on ice.
Heather Miller traveled from Scotland to visit family on the Coast and was in awe of the large fish. She said she had never seen such large
fish in her native land.
"I like the catfish," said Miller, age 16.
Raymond Miller wanted the visitor to experience some of what the Coast has to offer.
"I wanted to show her the local culture," said the Biloxi native. "And this is definitely the culture of the coast."
His seven-year-old son Jordan Miller was wide-eyed at the fish.
"I like the black drum," said the youngster.
Besides the annual rodeo, several food and craft vendors are set up under the pavilion. Among them is Hank Logan of Sports and Entertainment Marketing Group which is helping the non-profit organization Wounded Warriors Project with a silent auction of sports and entertainment memorabilia.
"I've been doing charity silent auctions for almost 25 years," said Logan of Pass Christian. "My father taught my family to give back and this is our way of helping a little bit."
The scales are open from 12 noon to 6 p.m. today through Saturday and 12 noon until 4 p.m. on Sunday.
Tonight's events include the annual fireworks show set for 8:45 p.m., while the Kids Fishing Rodeo will be held on Saturday. There are also carnival rides available for various prices.