GULFPORT -- He's not sure exactly how long it took, but Elmer Pique Sr. of Gulfport finally hit the leaderboard at the Mississippi Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo. This year marked the 66th annual fishing extravaganza over the Fourth of July, and Pique figures he has fished in anywhere from half to two-thirds of them.
"Oh maybe 30 or 40 years," he said after weighing in a tuna at 81 pounds, 14 ounces. "This is the biggest fish I've caught in the rodeo."
Pique, 63, became the first entrant in the tuna category. And after weighing in, he had to wait about two hours before the scales closed and he knew he had the top spot. He's proud to finally have a winner in his hometown tournament.
"It's just a lot of fun," he said. "It's good, getting people together 4th of July weekend."
In what has become a Mississippi Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo tradition, Charlie Yarberry of Moss Point lived up to his moniker of "Catfish Charlie." He had won the catfish category six years running.
He had a catfish weigh in at 64 pounds, more than twice the size of the leader at the time (31 pounds). "We could have beat that with a bunch of fish," Yarberry said.
"We count on ya every year," weighmaster Mark Wright told him.
But there won't be a seventh straight year on top for Catfish Charlie, who hosts a radio fishing show on a Lucedale radio station. His fishing partner, Harold Charlton of Ocean Springs, topped the category, pulling in a 72-pound, 5-ounce catfish out of the same cooler. So in the span of about 90 seconds, the time it took to get Charlton's fish on the scale, Catfish Charlie's reign ended.
"I got second place, and that ain't bad," Yarberry said. "Besides that, I told him where to fish."
Yarberry caught his mammoth catfish Saturday in the Mobile River and Charlton landed his on Sunday, in a spot Yarberry estimated was only about 200 yards from where his fish first bit on his line. While the gregarious Yarberry was pleased with his fish, there was no bragging from the more soft spoken Charlton.
"I just got the bigger fish, that's all," he said.
There were some other large fish weighed in Sunday, that didn't hit the leaderboard. J.C. Cassidy of Ocean Springs saw his 96-pound, 6-ounce stingray come up five pounds short of hitting the leader board (top two), behind six-year-old Landon Langlinais' catch which weighed in Saturday.
Rodeo Notes: Officials were pleased with not only the fish, during the four day rodeo, but also the overall event. Director Richard Valdez said attendance was up from last year.
More than 120 kids participated in Saturday's kids rodeo.
Three fish not in specific rodeo categories (spinner shark, ground mullet, and crownose ray) could potentially be certified as new state records.
For the first time, a daily prize went to someone from a foreign country as a couple from London, England, won a daily prize Thursday.
Crowds were so big the Fourth of July that the carnival midway stayed open an hour later than expected.
Rodeo officials also took out six wounded warriors fishing on Saturday.
All of the fishing categories except one (wahoo) had the top two spots filled.
"Next year will be our 67th year, and I don't see us stopping any time soon," Valdez said. "I want to thank all of our fishermen, without them we don't have a rodeo."