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Jul 1, 2014 5:30 AM by AP

Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo features 2 new changes

The 66th edition of the Mississippi Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo begins Thursday at Jones Park's Gulfport Harbor.

Admission to the four-day event is $10; $5 daily. Anglers fish free.

The rodeo, billed as the World's Largest Fishing Rodeo, will run through Sunday at Jones Park with freshwater and saltwater divisions.

Two changes are in store for anglers.

Florida pompano is replacing amberjack, which is currently closed to recreational fishing in federal waters.

Mark Wright, the weighmaster, said red snapper has been added back as category.

The red snapper recreational season was extended in state waters recently by the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources. The extension allows anglers to fish for red snapper within Mississippi waters on Friday, Saturday and Sunday only throughout the month of July.

"Last year, when the season for red snapper was closed, we removed red snapper as a category," Wright said. "We were not going to have red snapper again this year until the DMR opened fishing within state waters. When they (DMR) made the call, we added red snapper back as a category.

"Keep in mind that anglers fishing in Louisiana and Alabama waters can also bring their fish over here and enter."

Rodeo rules permit fishing waters are the Mississippi Sound and the Gulf of Mexico

The saltwater division will now include barracuda, blackfish, black drum, bluefish, bonito, gar, flounder, Florida pompano, grouper, jack crevalle, king mackerel, lemonfish, mangrove snapper, sheepshead, redfish, red snapper, shark, Spanish mackerel, speckled trout and stingray.

The other change is in the freshwater division that used to include shellcracker and bluegill along with catfish, crappie, green trout and striped bass.

"Shellcracker and bluegill are no longer individual categories," Wright said. "All sunfish have been grouped together this year as bream."

Gulfport is hosting the Fishing Rodeo for the second straight year. Biloxi and Long Beach hosted the tournament before returning to its original site.

For rodeo officials, Gulfport symbolizes its rich history and legacy. Gulfport hosted the tournament for 57 years.

"The Fishing Rodeo started out in Gulfport way before my time," said Richie Valdez, a member of the Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo board of directors. "Long Beach and Biloxi were both fabulous hosts, but it's real important that the rodeo is in Gulfport. People in Gulfport are happy to see us back."

The rodeo was created through an idea by Captain Horace Towell in 1947. The proposal was adopted as a resolution by American Legion Joe Graham Post 119 in Gulfport. The first fishing rodeo was held one year later.

In 1958, the American Legion Post incorporated the Fishing Rodeo as a Non-Profit Civic Improvement Corporation, dedicating its future development to Civic Leaders of Coastal Communities.

The resolution established the Rodeo's long-term mission statement: promote the Gulf Coast and its beautiful fishing areas in the Mississippi Sound and the Gulf of Mexico.

"The Deep Sea Rodeo is our way of giving back to the community and thanking our local fishermen," Valdez said. "They come out to celebrate the Fourth of July."

Hurricane Katrina's devastation in South Mississippi included Jones Park, ending Gulfport's six-decade run as host. Officials were forced to move the 2006 event to the Harrison County Fairgrounds for two years. The 2008 and 2009 rodeos were shifted to Biloxi's Point Cadet in Biloxi, back to Gulfport, then two years at the Long Beach Harbor and returning to Gulfport.

"When Katrina destroyed Jones Park, we bounced around a lot of cities," Wright said. "Long Beach and Biloxi were great, but having the rodeo in Gulfport makes perfect sense because it's centrally located. Gulfport works for fishermen on both sides to maintain balance."

Since Katrina, only three records were set or tied:

- Taylor Butterworth of Pass Christian caught a 109 pound Tarpon in 2001, tying a record set in 1972.

- Donnie Simmons of Pass Christian caught a 99-pound, 8-ounce amberjack in 2006.

- Walter Crapps of Pass Christian caught a 2-pound, 15-ounce white perch in 2008.

- Tommy Williams of Slidell, Louisiana, set a rodeo record at the gray snapper division at 12 pounds, 13 ounces in 2011.

Scales will be open Thursday through Saturday from noon-to-6 p.m. and from noon-to-4 p.m. on Sunday.

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