Season 3 of Wicked Tuna finds Tyler McLaughlin battling his mentor TJ Ott

National Geographic Channel’s highest-rated series Wicked Tuna returns for its third season tonight (Sunday, Feb 16) at 9pm ET. The competition is fierce in Gloucester as seven captains battle it out for a big payday using their traditional rod and reel to yield Bluefin tuna. Last season’s winner Tyler McLaughlin returns for Season 3 of Wicked Tuna with two new and inexperienced mates for Pin Wheel, as well as, new competition from his mentor Captain TJ Ott.

McLaughlin worked for Ott exclusively for four years before parting ways to make a go at it on his own. Although initially they worked together as the best of friends, now there are some hard feelings and Ott’s in it to win it. “You’re still the student,” Ott told McLaughlin. “I’m here to put you in your place.”

And putting him and the other captains in their place might be the case, as TJ arrives in Jeffreys Ledge with one of the most highly regarded boats on the East Coast.

“TJ’s the guy you got to watch out for,” says Captain Dave Carraro, who captains the F/V Carraro actually took the top spot in Season 1 and is gunning to reclaim his title this season. In the premiere episode, Wicked Tuna: The Wicked Return (Feb. 16), Carraro gets the smack talk going between Ott and McLaughlin. He’s also the first to get the clock rolling when it comes to fishing. “The first fish is not all about the money,” Carraro explains, “it’s also the bragging rights.”

But McLaughlin isn’t about to take any lip from Ott or Carraro this season, “I don’t care if I’m solo fishing or if I’ve got 15 mates I’m still going to kick .com,” McLaughlin says about Carraro’s boat. And he’s got plenty to say about Ott joining the race, as well.

The rest of the captains for Season 3 of Wicked Tuna include Captain Dave Marciano of Hard Merchandise, who has two kids in college plus another one at home. Marciano’s boat sank at the end of last season leaving him in quite a financial strain. Marciano said a lot of people within the community rallied in support of him and helped ensure he got a new engine, wiring and all new electronics to get him ready for the new season.

Fan favorite, Paul Hebert, returns for a full season taking the helm of his own boat, the Wicked Pissah.

Captain Bill Monte looks to redeem himself after a heartbreaking season last year and needs to turn his luck around before financial pressure forces him to retire,” says Heather Moran, NGC’s executive vice president of programming and strategy. Monte captains the Bounty Hunter.

And rounding off the fleet is newcomer Captain Bill Hollywood Muniz of the fishing vessel Lilly. Muniz is unique to the group as he uses a harpoon vs. the traditional rod and reel.

“Its just a lot more excitement. It just seems like it’s in my blood. I love to do it,” Muniz says of harpooning. “It’s a lot harder to me, I think, than rod and reeling. I used to be a rod and reel guy, and now, I mastered this harpoon business, and I just love it.”

From early talks, this season will find no shortage of big personalities or big tuna.

“This year, we did have a fish that was right around 900 pounds, and we hooked up at 5:00 in the morning, and we didn’t get him until later that afternoon.  It was actually about a 10‑hour battle, so a big fish and a long time,” Carraro said.

“I caught a pretty good one this summer myself,” McLaughlin said.  “It was pretty good action, probably the biggest one I’ve caught by myself, about 550 pounds.  I fought it for about an hour and a half.  It was quite the battle.  I ended up breaking the line on the fish after I harpooned it, and I had to fight it on the dart line by myself, and it was pretty — you know, for personal gain, it really was probably the most completing thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

Wicked Tuna airs on National Geographic Channel Sundays. Who are you cheering for this season?