633-pound blue marlin highlights Friday's Billfish Classic

BILOXI -- Fishing was slow Friday in the Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic, but those fish that were caught on the tournament's first day are better than three of last year's winners.

Clint Herring, fishing from Cotton Patch, weighed a blue marlin of 633 pounds, 46 pounds better than last year's winner, a 587-pounder caught by 18-year-old Kate Gonsoulin aboard the Cotton Patch.

J.W. Catt, fishing aboard Peace Keeper, recorded a yellow-fin tuna of just under 180 pounds, 18 pounds better than Dan St. Germain's winning catch last year. In the Wahoo category, Sawyer Henderson weighed in a fish of 73.4 pounds, just under 10 pounds better than Stephen Chapman's winning catch last year.

After the first day's fishing, Lee Norris would be the only 2015 angler still in contention, finishing last year's tournament with a dolphin hitting the scales at 39.6 pounds. Ed Brown, who weighed in a catch of 30.3 pounds, leads the 2016 dolphin category, just under 9.5 pounds lighter than last year's winners.

Each fisherman can weigh one fish Friday and Saturday for the tournament. Weigh-in Saturday is at Point Cadet Marina behind the Golden Nugget Casino.

Capt. Peace Marvel with Peace Keeper said he was definitely refueling and going back out to see if he could better his tuna.

"I am cautiously optimistic, but not confident," Marvel said of the first day's fish holding up through 8 p.m. Saturday. If the catch holds up, Marvel and his crew are looking at a winning check of around $139,000. "If I was fully confident, I wouldn't be heading back out."

Cotton Patch Capt. Johnny Dorland is also worried his blue marlin won't hold up, despite being over 40 pounds heavier than the average winning marlin of 588.8. He's caught three bigger marlins than Friday's, two in the last two years: a 899-pound fish off Destin last year and a 710-pounder Memorial Day.

"We are happy with where we are at," Dorland said, but noted other captains still in the Gulf were good anglers and could pull in a larger marlin. If Dorland's marlin holds up as the tournament's largest, he stands to win $235,000.

Dorland said he and his crew caught the fish around the oil rig Blind Faith about 120 miles due south of Biloxi.

"We've been very, very luck," Dorland said of his success in recent years. "It's always good to be lucky. Getting them to bite is luck. Then you have to be good enough to catch the fish."

Dorland said the crew did not have a bite until the marlin hit around 10:30. "It was the only bite we had today," he said, noting that fishing could change overnight.

Herring brought the marlin in.

"It was pretty tough," he said, saying the marlin came out of the water twice, once jumping up 10 feet above the water surface. "It was like battling a rhinoceros. She was a little mad we hooked her."

Catt hooked his tuna about 138 miles southwest of Biloxi off another oil rig.

"When she hit the top of the water, we knew we had a big fish," he said.

Marvel said that if they were fishing for any tuna, then fishing was good. However, he noted they were using big bait and other techniques designed to land big tuna. However, the worst part of the day were Wahoos taking their bait. In the course of the day, Peace Keeper's crew caught seven Wahoos.

"In a normal day, that would be good," Marvel said, adding the Wahoos made it difficult to hook their prize big tuna. "But we kept hitting Wahoos and getting 30-pound fish."

The 20th annual Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic tournament has a prize pool of $1.7 million with 81 boats entered, 14 more than last year's 67 boats.