"This is the only place I can get my hands on an alligator gar," says state fisheries biologist Dennis Riecke, describing one of the strangest fish of the estuaries and bayous. "We don't know very much about them. They're an ancient species, one of the first fish to have bones. They have scales like armor—Indians used them for arrowheads."
And so Riecke returns to Gulfport annually, drawn with the thousands of others who come to eat, compete, dissect—or just gawk at species many have never seen before. "That's why we're here," says Riecke. "This tournament has the biggest variety of fish anywhere around."