BILOXI-- Nick Ladner and the crew of the Lil' Time Off braved rough seas and difficult fishing conditions off the Coast to take top prize in the 30th running of the Gorenflo's Cobia Tournament, which ran from Friday to Sunday.
Tournament organizer Danny Pitalo said that 30 boats participated in the tournament. Many captains were discouraged by stormy weather across the Gulf Coast this weekend. Boats were able to weigh up to three fish a day with a maximum of five fish over the three-day tournament.
Ladner's three-day total was just over 182 pounds, about 50 pounds better than second-place boat Whip-a-Snapper. The win was Ladner's third since he started fishing his own boat in 2007. Ladner felt the weather wreaked havoc with fishing along the Coast, particularly west of Biloxi, causing four-to-six feet seas, muddying the water, and driving the cobia toward deeper water.
"All the rain drove the temperature of the water down," Ladner said. "We had to run a lot further to find the cobia."
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Matt Smith, who was on Subdude, headed east to find the best cobia hunting grounds this weekend. His 65-pound cobia was caught off Pascagoula Pass, around 70 miles east of Biloxi. Smith noticed the cobia swimming around a buoy in the Gulf. His boat ran into 60 mph winds and hail on Saturday.
"We had been fishing all day, fighting the weather and sea," Smith said. "We hadn't caught a whole lot and we were going back to Orange Beach."
On the way to Orange Beach, Ala. Smith and his crew spotted the large cobia circling the buoy and were able to catch the tournament's big fish.
Pitalo started the tournament 30 years ago to give anglers along the Coast an opportunity to fish. Now, he is starting to see third generation anglers enter the tournament following their grandfathers and fathers.
"We wanted to start something that was family friendly," Pitalo said. "We wanted to start something that was enjoyable and families could bring their children to."
Gulf Coast Research Lab biologist Jim Franks has been collecting data at the tournament since its inception. "It helps us to understand the biology of the cobia," he said, adding the tournament was more than just an opportunity to collect data.
"I really enjoy the anglers I've met over the last 30 years," Franks said. "I've gotten to know a lot of the fishermen along the Coast and I've learned a lot from them."
Lil Time Off crewman Jimmy Renthrop has fished the tournament since 1995. He's been on four winning boats.
"It's the biggest cobia tournament on the Coast," Renthrop said. "All my friends fish in the tournament."