The 2023 MONGO Offshore Challenge was a banner year. What began four years ago as an intimate celebration of the Gulf Coast Sportfishing community, has grown into the world’s largest multi-month big game challenge. In 2023, the MONGO celebrated its 4th anniversary in style—with great fishing in two divisions that span contiguously from the rigs of the Gulf Coast to the offshore canyons of New England.
The MONGO Offshore Challenge not only showcases the incredible fishing of the Gulf and East Coasts, but celebrates the people, businesses and community that comprise the sportfishing industry in the United States. The MONGO’s network of anglers (more than 3,000), boats (162), states represented (16), and composition of sponsors make it perhaps the most expansive bluewater tournament in the world.
2023 MONGO Stats
The MONGO Offshore Challenge is a celebration of fishing. The tournament’s unique set up is purposefully designed to promote accessibility, participation and cooperation.
In 2023, the MONGO’s Gulf and East Coast divisions combined to host a total of 162 participating teams. Tournament boats hailed from 16 states—from Texas to Massachusetts– ranging in length from 21-92’. A season-long, biggest fish wins affair, the MONGO’s 153 days of fishing opens the competition to boats of all sizes and crews of all experience levels.
Searching for the biggest blue marlin, swordfish, tuna, wahoo and dolphin, tournament boats logged more than 4,000 MONGO trips in 2023. A boat-based tournament, the MONGO allows any angler registered in the trip log to take part in the tournament. In 2023, the MONGO hosted an incredible 3,000 anglers.
What’s more, you can fish the MONGO while fishing other tournaments. In fact, the tournament accepts weights from over 70 of the Gulf and East Coast’s premier billfish and tuna tournaments. Once you catch a MONGO, you can weigh it any of the more than 40 partner marinas up and down the coast.
When it was all said and done–with hundreds of boats and thousands of anglers fishing over 153 days- large cardboard checks and MONGO trophies were headed to some of the most storied docks on the sportfishing landscape. Here’s a breakdown.
Gulf Division Winners:
Blue Marlin: 723.7 pounds. Purse: $136,000
Mahi: 59.8 pounds. Purse: $32,300
Captain Dennis Bennett, owner Chris Hatcher, Salt Shaker. 58’ Viking. Baytown Marina, Destin, Florida.
Swordfish: 292.9 pounds. Purse: $51,000
Captain Mike Kubecka, Reel Rush. 33’ Americat. Matagorda, Texas.
Tuna: 224.4 pounds. Purse: $73,950
Wahoo: 77.2 pounds. Purse: $21,250
Captain Bill Staff, Sea Spray. 65’ Resmondo. Orange Beach, Alabama.
East Coast Division Winners
Blue Marlin- no qualifying fish weighed. $62,000 rolled into 2024 East Coast Blue Marlin Division
Swordfish- no qualifying fish weighed. $3,500 rolled into 2024 East Coast Swordfish Division
Yellowfin Tuna- 125 pounds. Purse: $16,000
Wahoo- 61 pounds. Purse: $11,600
Captain Jay Watson, owners J. J. Johnson and Dave Pirrung. Wide Spread, 52’ Crown Boatworks, Oregon Inlet Fishing Center, Manteo, North Carolina.
Bigeye Tuna- 246.4 pounds. Purse: $6,000
Captain Willie Zimmerman, Ro Sham Bo, 65’ Guthrie. Ocean City, Maryland.
Mahi: 60 pounds. Purse: $6,300
Captain Jack Graham. Afishionado, 50’ Holton. Oregon Inlet Fishing Center, Manteo, North Carolina.
MONGO Profiles: Stories of the winning fish and the winning crews
Central to the charm of offshore fishing are the people who are involved. Wherever you find passionate bluewater fishermen, you’ll find comradery and tradition. While the ways in which this passion and tradition are celebrated may vary a bit by region, there are a couple of things that never change.
The MONGO Offshore Challenge is built on two universal truths:
- Everyone loves to catch giant fish.
- Behind every great fish, lies a great story.
2023 was full of both—giant fish and great stories. Here’s some perspective from a couple of captains who doubled up, each winning two categories of this year’s tournament.
A Gulf Coast Double Header
Captain Dennis Bennett and the team aboard Salt Shaker, a 58’ Viking based in Destin, Florida, won the Gulf Coast division’s blue marlin and mahi categories. Each of these fish were not only good for a giant cardboard check from the MONGO, but for a payday in other tournaments as well.
The Salt Shaker’s 723.7-pound blue marlin won both $136k in the MONGO and $293,000 in the Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic. The MONGO dolphin cashed checks in two tournaments as well– breaking the Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic’s dolphin record on the way to winning the MONGO.
When describing his year, Bennett expresses gratitude, perspective and humility. “It’s pretty rare to catch a fish that big… to be part of a tournament was a pretty special deal,” Bennett explains. 2023 was Bennett’s fourth year fishing the MONGO. He has competed in both the Gulf and East Coast divisions.
The MONGO’s collaborative, inclusive layout imparts numerous benefits to those who participate. Not only can boats like the Salt Shaker compete in the MONGO and other tournaments simultaneously, but the MONGO makes every day on the water a tournament.
Bennett explains, “We make lots of pre-trips for tournaments. Chris (owner of the Salt Shaker) enjoys fun fishing. There’s always a chance to win some money on a big fish,” he says. “At any given moment we can have a tournament-winning fish. It’s really a cool format… everybody’s involved.”
An East Coast MONGO Meat Slam
Captain Jay Watson is no stranger to high profile east coast tournaments. The 2021 Big Rock champion, the Wide Spread fishes Pirate’s Cove, the Boat Builders and many others. Based out of the world-famous Oregon Inlet Fishing Center in Manteo, North Carolina over the past two seasons, Watson and the Wide Spread have won three East Coast Division MONGO categories.
In 2022 Watson won Mahi division nearly by accident. “I caught a nice dolphin. I wasn’t going to weigh it. We had it on the fillet table. I decided to take a picture of it for Jeremy (Capt. Jeremy Cox, co-founder of the MONGO),” Watson explains.
The dolphin weighed 41.2 pounds. As it turned out, it was the largest dolphin caught by a participating boat. “The fish won $24,000 by a pound. I caught it on the first day of the tournament… It held up for 152 days.”
You’ve got to be in it to win it.
In 2023, Watson won the tuna and wahoo categories. Watson caught the winning wahoo while plug fishing for blue marlin. The wahoo ate a lure as they were pulling them in to head back to the dock.
He caught the winning yellowfin while fishing with Scott Sommers, a freelance mate who was filling in for Watson’s normal crewman. The next day, Sommers caught the MONGO-winning 60-pound dolphin while filling in for Captain Jack Graham’s regular mate aboard the Afishionado. Sommers caught tournament winning fish on back-to-back days, fishing on different boats, filling in for two separate normal mates.
Watson enjoys fishing the MONGO and believes the tournament to be a good fit for the sportfishing industry on the East Coast. “The MONGO is really good for charter captains. A charter captain can catch one good fish and say, ‘I beat everybody at the Fishing Center,’” Watson explains. “The MONGO is good for everyone.”
“A lot of my tournament guys chartered me to specifically fish the blue marlin in the MONGO. It’s exciting that the money rolled over,” Watson says. “If I have a charter client that wins the MONGO, I give them a free trip. It’s an extra bonus—try to win something and get a free trip. The MONGO provides a competitive advantage to charter guys who fish it.”
The three-time MONGO winner provides quite a bit of perspective about his excitement for the tournament’s future. “I might be the only guy to have won the meat slam in the MONGO,” Watson says. For his dolphin in 2022, he won more than $24,000. Watson took home nearly $30,000 more for his winning fish this year.
“We caught a good tuna. But there were hundreds of bigger wahoo and mahi caught on the east coast by boats who weren’t in the MONGO,” Watson explains. “It’s proof that you’ve got to be in it to win it.”Captain Jay Watson, WideSpread. Oregon Inlet Fishing Center.
Fish the 2024 MONGO
In 2024 the MONGO will celebrate its fifth anniversary. What started as an intimate celebration of the Gulf Coast Sportfishing community has grown to become the world’s largest multi-month big game challenge. With east coast blue marlin and swordfish money rolling over, the tournament’s excitement builds.
There are as many reasons to fish the MONGO as there are fishermen who fish it. Here’s a few of our favorites:
- You can fish the MONGO while fishing other tournaments. In fact, the winning Gulf Coast blue marlin won the MONGO and the Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic. The winning Gulf dolphin won the MONGO and broke the Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic’s dolphin record.
- East Coast Division: 2023 Blue Marlin and Swordfish Money Rolls Over. Somebody is going to win a bunch of money. As Captain Jay Watson of the Wide Spread explains, “You’ve got to be in to win it.”
- You’ve got to be in it, to win it. The MONGO’s minimum weights are such that every fish weighed is a good one. The winners are the tournament boats who weighed the largest fish in each division. In many cases, there were fish weighed by non-tournament boats that could have won the MONGO had they registered.
- Entry fees set to promote participation, not to break the bank. Entering many offshore tournaments requires a small fortune. The MONGO’s entry fees are set to promote participation. For many captains, you’ll burn more fuel in two trips (or have a larger bait tab) than it costs to enter the MONGO.
- Biggest, single fish wins. By competing for the largest single fish in each category, anyone can win the MONGO.
- Make every trip a tournament. The MONGO makes tournament fishing accessible to many people who might not otherwise get the chance to participate. For the tournament billfishing crew, this means the opportunity to win money any day on the water. For the charter angler, this means the opportunity to compete in a high stakes, high profile offshore tournament in a way that is not otherwise possible.
To register for the 2024 MONGO Offshore Challenge, please visit: https://www.mongooffshore.com/