One of my favorite tournaments, Paddlepalooza, was held this past weekend in Leeville, LA. This year marks it’s tenth year in existence, amazing to think how far the tournament has come in ten years. A record number of people registered for the event, officially there were 272 kayak fishermen (and women) signed up, making it the second largest single day kayak fishing event in the nation! Last year’s Ride the Bull held in Grand Isle was third at 261! Kayak fishing popular in Louisiana? No, not at all….
In the week prior, the weather forecast was a little unnerving with 20-25 knot winds and thunderstorms for the day of the event, but as Saturday kept creeping closer, things kept getting better and better and by the time I launched that morning a thick fog bank had developed and wind was at a stand still. Before I get ahead of myself I did get to fish Friday.
Friday I got a late start and made it down to Leeville at about noon. Contemplating where I wanted to fish and watching the weather (there was a little wind/rain Friday), I started on the side of the road fishing culverts. Ended up not catching a thing standing on the road, but the water looked so pretty I had to launch and give the marsh a try. I was working points and cuts trying to locate flounder, but all I ended up catching was rat reds, a lot of undersize fish. I decided that probably wasn’t where I wanted to fish the next day and that I should probably just fish where I’ve put in the most work this year.
I headed over to the captain’s meeting to meet up with fellow Jackson teamer Hunter King. He was in from Mobile for the tournament. We split a hotel room for the weekend and would fish together Saturday. As we worked over our plan for Saturday it was apparent we had the same idea, even though Hunter had never been down here, he had a good idea of where he wanted to fish, it just so happened that was a spot I had been scouting since December.
The captain’s meeting was fun, as always the food was delicious. With such a big tournament this year, you could feel the anticipation and excitement while talking with everyone. It’s always great seeing all the other kayak anglers that I’ve become friends with over the past 5-6 years, ragging each other, trying to figure out everyone’s plan, and meeting new guys to the club this year and guys in from out of town. A lot of out of towners this year too, as I understand it, nine states were represented at Paddlepalooza, with folks coming from all over the Southeast. The social aspect of the captain’s meeting and the weigh-in are important elements in the tournament experience, guys that miss out on them are really missing out on the reason the tournament was originally created, to gather like minded individuals together in friendly competition. The fish stories that are told prior to the tourney may be some of the greatest out there, and they only get better the next day, at the weigh-in.
Hunter and I set off Saturday and managed to hit the water by 5:20am, a little after lines in, which was set for 5:00am. A trio of anglers launched ahead of us and we were able to located their lights to see where they were headed, sure enough they were headed in the direction I wanted to go. It was dark out there and the fog was so thick that you really couldn’t see ten feet in front of you. So instead of following them, we posted it up at a bulkead and started chucking topwaters. The water was pretty and I knew this past had a significant oyster bottom, it was only a matter of time before I had my first trout bump my lure. Shortly after that a nice redfish inhaled the bone Super Spook Jr. I got him in the boat and estimated his length against my paddle at 26″, a great tournament red, as the slot max is 27″. Hunter forgot his measure board at the truck, still being close to the launch he paddled back to get it. Might have been a bad move on his part, we’ll never know, but I kept throwing the topwater out there and ended up with two nice specks. One at 18.5″ and another at 19.5″ I was feeling pretty good and it was probably only 5:45am. Now I had to find a flounder, which are always the toughest of the slam species for me to catch.
I headed toward the nearest bank and began pounding it with a jig. Taking a cue from Fall N Tide, I was bouncing the jig along the bottom parallel to the shore, hoping to get bit by something, but getting caught on a number of oysters. As I moved further down the shoreline and into what looked like a little pocket bay, the oysters cleared, the bottom hardened, and the depth got quite shallow. Pitching into a little drain, I felt a slight tap and noticed my line moving sideways, I set the hook and reeled it in quick as it didn’t feel like much of a fish. It wasn’t, but it was a flounder. At 12.5″, it barely met the minimum 12″ requirement set by the tournament, but it was good enough. It was 6:00am, pitch black, and I had a slam. What a feeling to have on tournament day!
Hunter had made it back by the time I caught my flounder, but he was working the area where I had caught my specks, looking for any stragglers, not having any luck. I met back up with him and told him I already had my slam. He couldn’t believe it, I really still couldn’t believe it. Fall N Tide was similar in the sense that I had a slam early, but that slam I had to upgrade the red and the trout, this one was pretty solid minus the flounder. So I was looking for a flounder upgrade and Hunter needed to catch something, so we set off to a pond I really like for redfish.
We got there to find a couple people already there, no big deal, you can always find somewhere to fish by yourself in the marsh. So we kept moving, fishing obvious places, Hunter hooked a nice black drum, but lost him at the boat. I sight fished a 22-23″ red in a pond and let him go to fight another day.
Then things slowed down. The sun was up by now, but with the cloud cover it still seemed so dark, my sunglasses never stayed on very long Saturday. We covered a lot of territory fishing likely marsh and oyster flats, but with nothing to show for it.
Then as I was in one pond looking for reds I could hear one working a bank in an adjacent pond and it looked like a good fish. I instructed Hunter over there to get him. He made a cast into the grass, that hung up a little too long to be on target. I was behind him by now and cast in front of the fish by a few feet, but he turned and headed between us. Hunter flipped his lure behind him and the redfish ate. That fish bulldogged him, running under his boat with every chance he got. It looked like a nice redfish, we were a little worried it would be over the slot. When he pulled it out of the water I told him that it would be fine, a 26″ red. Sure enough he measured it at 26.75″. A perfect tournament day red because the fish wasn’t lean either. We were both pretty stoked, I knew at that point we would both walk away with something.
We fished on the rest of the day, I halfheartedly tried to upgrade my flounder, but I was really just excited that we both had fish to weigh. We ended up finding some more trout in a marsh cut, off a canal, so Hunter was able to pick up a 14″ trout too.
At this point in the day the wind began to increase and we were getting hungry. We hit one last flounder spot to no avail before deciding to pack it in. We headed on over to Tyd’s, where I had a cheeseburger that really hit the spot. Then we headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up for the weigh-in. I don’t think I’ve ever fished a tourney where I was able to take my time getting back to the weigh-in, but boy was it nice.
We made it to the weigh-in and caught up with some of the other anglers in the tourney. We learned that Hunter’s redfish wouldn’t be first, as his friend Tony Hart, had boated a slot red that weighed over 8 lbs! We also learned that a lot of nice trout were caught, as tons of people brought in trout better than 2 lbs, with top trout going 4.85 lbs! It was a tough day for flounder though and most of the flounder that were caught ended up being pretty small, like mine. I knew my slam wouldn’t win, but I was thinking it would be somewhere around fifth, which was definitely in the money, making me a pretty happy camper.
In Paddlepalooza tradition, the weighed fish get filleted and fried to feed the gang of hungry kayak anglers that found themselves back at Bobby Lynn’s Marina. Talk about good, those fish cleaners and cooks did one heck of a job this weekend. I found myself with Jeff, Greg, and Luke of the Lafayette Kayak Fishing Club, watching the weigh-in and cutting up. Pretty awesome to watch them all take home prizes in various categories and to see other familiar names get called. Hunter got second place with his big red, so I had to run up and snap his pic.
All categories paid out five places with the exception of the slam, which paid out twelve this year due to the amount of people we had registered. 12th place ended up taking home a little over $400 too. My slam was a good two pounds heavier than 12th, so things were looking good. As the names kept getting called, the increments were getting smaller. There were a good bit of eight and nine pound slams, enough so that I made it all the way to third, which meant instead of a check, I took home a kayak!
(Photo credit: Brendan Bayard)
A brand new blue Wilderness Systems Ride 135! Not only that, but it came with a Bending Branches Angler Ace paddle and an inflatable MTI lifejacket! I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve two kayaks in my last two tournaments, but I feel extremely blessed.
A big thank you to everyone at BCKFC who puts on the event, Bobby Gros with Bobby Lynn’s Marina for hosting us and to all the sponsors who chip in to put the palooza in Paddlepalooza. Congrats to all the other anglers out there who competed and were lucky enough to place as well. A big congrats to Tommy Eubanks whose slam beat mine by two pounds to get first. His first place finish also meant he won an invite to the Hobie World’s Tournament in Australia! I was so close! The rest of the results are below: