By Kate Magandy, Sun Hearld
Ron Ladner and Rimmer Covington Jr. returned to the Gulf of Mexico this fishing season and kicked it off with a big win.
Ladner, Covington and their crew spent last season aboard the 60-foot Sportfisherman, the Cheeseburger, in St. Thomas. They brought it back to the Coast and made some upgrades and decided to fish locally this season.
“This was only our second marlin trip in the Gulf in almost two years” Ladner said. “We fished the famous North Drop in the Virgin Islands off of St. Thomas all of last year, so our first Gulf tournament this year, the Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic, was a ‘get-the-rust-off’ trip.”
Covington, who captains the Cheeseburger for the Shaggy’s Fishing Team, said it took a few days to get back into the swing of things.
“It took us a few fishing days to get dialed back in,” Covington said. “It just came together for us on this trip. It helped that we had a very good crew … we’ve all fished together before, so we gelled well as a team.”
They kicked off the week Thursday by taking part in the Shaggy’s Angler Camp, a program sponsored by Ladner and Covington’s restaurants, Shaggy’s, and conducted by the USM Gulf Coast Research Lab. Ladner and Covington foot the bill to take campers out on an offshore fishing trip.
“Including the group Ron and I took on our boat, a total of 35 kids got to go fishing offshore, most of them for the first time,” Covington said. “Watching those kids catch their first big fish was as exciting as the marlin we caught in the next two days.”
After the angler camp warm-up, the Cheeseburger got serious with the Mississippi Big Game Fishing Club’s Jeff Alexander Memorial Spring Tournament.
“I grew up with Jeff Alexander. He was a great guy, and a great friend,” Ladner said. “Winning his tournament is always special to me … Marlin fishing was his passion.”
“The boat didn’t seem quite ready, but early evening on Thursday, we said ‘Let’s Go!’ ” Covington said. “We can always turn around, but we know we won’t catch any marlin at the dock.”
A storm Friday night delayed the crew getting back to the Gulfport Harbor until about 1 a.m. But the Cheeseburger fueled up, iced down and headed back out to fish again Saturday. It paid off.
The Cheeseburger won top boat honors at the Jeff Alexander and Covington’s wife, Taylor, won top angler.
“She caught the first blue marlin on the new boat,” Ladner said.
The crew released three blue marlin and four white marlin for seven billfish in two days.
The win qualifies the Shaggy’s Fishing Team for an invitation to the World Offshore Championship next spring in Quepos, Costa Rica. Ladner and Covington fished the tournament three years ago and finished sixth out of 61 boats.
“So this will go down as my most exciting fishing week ever,” Ladner said. “We spent Thursday giving back to the community by taking kids fishing and creating memorable experiences, then we turn around the next two days and have our best marlin trip ever. Funny how that works!”