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It has been a short while since I’ve fished in the kayak and was able to remedy that this past weekend.  I didn’t make the decision to fish until mid-week as I was weighing my options between the Zapp’s International Beerfest and BCKFC‘s Redfish Rumble.  I finally decided to fish since the weather forecast looked decent enough and after all the rain we’ve had I was really itching to get out.

That initial weather forecast called for 15 mph winds and as any veteran saltwater angler can attest, you can add 10 mph to that when fishing the marsh, so by that logic the forecast was spot on.

I woke up at 3:00 am, hit the road by 3:45 am and was on the water no later than 6:00 am.  The tournament started at 5:00 am, but the sun didn’t rise until after I launched, so I wasn’t bothered by my late start.

The tournament objective, which is one that I really like, was the heaviest combined weight of three redfish and one bass.  Having this style of tournament in St. Bernard Parish makes this format achievable as there is seemingly endless amount of water where you can catch both redfish and largemouth bass.

As is typical for any tournament my original plan was scraped at the last minute as the steady N to NW winds really put a damper on where I wanted to head.  So I hit up plan B, an area I’d never fished and only looked at on Google Earth, but looked like somewhere I could do well and maybe even get some protection from the wind.

I started my day paddling into the wind, stopping to blind cast at points, islands, and cuts.  I picked up a mid slot red doing this on a weedless Zoom swimming super fluke jr. (that’s a mouthful).  There is so much submerged vegetation in St. Bernard Parish that fishing weedless baits is a requirement and this is one I like to throw in the grass.

Eventually though I was getting tired of pulling grass from my “weedless” jig head and tied on the smallest gold spoon I had, which I believe was a 1/16th oz Johnson Silver Minnow, though it may have been an 1/8th oz.  The idea for going with the small spoon was that I wanted to swim it over the grass, I really didn’t want it to sink too far and redfish love gold spoons.  The area I was in didn’t have the big grass mats that went all the way to the water surface, but the bottom was still covered, leaving varying depths of clean water on top.

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Soon enough I picked up a 13.25″ bass blind casting with the spoon, which was a welcome addition to the fish bag.  I spent the next two hours or so trying to emulate my early success, but having no luck.  I decided that conditions were good enough for me to to stand up and try my luck sight fishing.  The cloudy skies that we had in the morning had parted.  The water clarity was very excellent where I was at.  The only negative was the steady wind, which was something I thought I could work around.

After another two hours of not seeing or even spooking redfish I was getting pretty frustrated.  I  knew that I had to start heading back toward the launch soon as I was miles away and two fish just wasn’t going to cut it, so I sat down and began to come up with another strategy as I let the wind blow me back where I came from.  By the way, I should mention that at this point, I was under the impression this is a five fish stringer tournament of four reds and one bass, so my bag seemed that much worse than what it actually was.

As I’m seated, speed drifting through a pond thanks to the wind, blind casting my gold spoon wherever looked good, I see a flash of red just below the surface some distance off.  I knew exactly what it was and headed that way.  As I stood up I could see it was two reds cruising through the pond, making their way toward me.  I made a cast past the fish and pulled it at back at an angle toward them, in a flash one of the reds saw and attacked the spoon. With no time to react I never got a hook-set in him and the spoon was spit.  I was lucky because he didn’t spook either, just kept moving along, and I put another cast in front of them and this time got a solid eat.

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I could tell during the fight that it was a solid fish.  It was too solid of a fish, at 28.5″, he was 1.5″ over the slot and no good for our tourney.  I tagged him and sent him back into the water to give someone else a thrill, a little disappointed he was too big.

As I’m releasing him though I glance up into the area you see above in the picture and catch another flash of red.  What are the odds?  I move up a little bit and tuck myself along the right bank once I realize it’s not just one fish but a few reds moving through the cut.

I make a cast in front of that group and pull out a 24-25″ fish that went somewhere around 5-6 lbs.  I’m feeling a bit more optimistic at this point – I went from seeing no activity to seeing two different groups of redfish in a matter of minutes.  I was a little nervous about time as my alarm to start heading back to the truck had already gone off, though it was set pretty conservatively in the first place.  So I set another alarm for when I absolutely had to start heading back and kept fishing.

I drifted my way through that cut and into another pond, at this point I was in full blown sightfishing mode as that’s how I spotted the last two fish I caught – I just happened to be seated at the time.  It didn’t take long to see another fish, who was just chilling on top of some thick grass, I actually thought he was over the slot when I saw him but decided to try and catch him anyway as I’m always down to fight a big fish.

After an accurate cast with the spoon and an awesome eat (so cool to see the whole process in crystal clear water) I got him in the boat and put him on the board – a hair over 27″.  I was stoked, but knew he had to shrink a little for me to be able to use him.  I didn’t have a whole lot of ice in my fish bag so I was going to have make sure to get a fresh bag when I got off the water.  I threw him in there and hoped for the best. (For anyone not familiar, fish put on ice will shrink as much as 1/4″.)

At this point I’ve got three reds and a bass, exactly what I need to weigh in, but for some reason I still think I need four redfish so I keep press on.  At some point during the next thirty minutes I reach a point of clarity and remember I only needed three reds which is precisely what I had and suddenly relief sets in.  Still though, the first redfish I caught was not a stud by any stretch of the imagination so I kept fishing.

I farmed it on the next pair of reds I saw and was kicking myself big time since time was winding down.  I soon made it out of my nice crystal clear water and into the dirtier water that was found closer to the launch (I was still drifting back to the launch).  Luckily for me soon after hitting that dirty water, I spot the faint colors of a red in a shallow pond and made another good cast and fooled him to eat.  It was a near clone of my earlier 24-25″ fish and I was happy to put him in the bag as an upgrade from the early redfish.

I was feeling good at this point, not because I thought I would win, but because I accomplished what I had set out to do – put four mid to upper slot reds and one bass in the bag.  It took all day to do it and was a lot of work in the wind, but I was glad I stuck it out.  I headed back to the launch and heard my alarm go off just as I began pulling the Kraken out of the water.

About the Kraken – I was really pleased with how well the boat did in the conditions I fished in on Saturday.  I went further than I thought I would be able to and was able to fish some really incredible water because of it.  I did it without complaint too –  I spent far less time bitching about the wind and more time fishing and there is something to be said for that.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again the combination of speed and stability in the 13.5 is impressive, I’ve never seen another boat quite like it.

The weigh-in was held just up the road in Meraux at the Meraux Tackle Box, where the owner went out of the way to make us feel at home with a great big tent set up out back.  He runs a good shop too with a great selection of baits for fishing down in St. Bernard.  I’ll be back for sure next time I fish down that way.

Out of the 91 folks registered, 30 showed up to weigh fish and no one had more weight than the first person in line.  Rick Dembrun, a fellow Jackson teamer for Massey’s Outfitters, fellow Kraken 13.5 paddler, and a local to the area, set the gold standard at 24.65 lbs.

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My big red that I was slightly nervous about on the water wasn’t even that close to being 27″ when measured by Todd on the official board.  I must have been overzealous when I measured it on the water, so I was happy to retain his 8+ lb weight and come in 2nd at 21.07 lbs, the pic above is my four fish at the weigh-in table.

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I really didn’t expect to come in 2nd when I was on the water, I always assume everyone else did better than me when I’m out there, but it was pretty evident at the weigh in as folks trickled in that it was a tough day for most and 20 lbs was holding steady.

To round out the top 5, my friend Steve came in 3rd with 18.04 lbs, Michael Ethridge was 4th with 17.98 lbs and Kalon Johnson was 5th with 14.41 lbs.  There were two side pots for the tournament that you could sign up for $5 each – big fish and leopard red.  Big fish went to Wayne Lobb with a monster 8.41 lb slot red.  Leopard red went to Kevin May with 10 spots.  I declined entry into both and almost made a mistake as my big fish was not too far off from Wayne’s.  No sleep was lost over the decision.

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I’m happy that things played out the way they did and that I decided to not go to the Beerfest.  Any day that I go fishing and get paid to do is a great day.  Here’s to more great days!

That just may be my favorite music video.

I fished a tournament this past weekend, Bayou Coast’s Minimalist Challenge.  It’s got a unique format as they provide you with the tackle you’ll use for the day. Five soft plastics, five jigheads and a topwater is what was provided. The goal is to catch and weigh as many legal trout, redfish and flounder as you possibly can.

This has never been my favorite tournament, not because of the provided tackle part, I actually like that – it simplifies things.  Rather, I hate that I may actually have to keep forty fish, which will likely never happen, but I hate the idea – that would be some day though right!

We had a shotgun launch at 6:00am from Leeville and 125 kayak anglers spread out across the adjacent marsh.  I knew early on I wanted to put some distance between myself and the launch because frankly I don’t like fishing with a crowd.

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I made my first stop on the backside of an island where a trenasse emptied into a larger bayou.  Clear, moving water was being swept around both sides of the island and my first cast toward the island was inhaled by a junior bull of about 32″.  It took a while for me to figure that out though because he shook his head like a big trout and nearly gave me a heart attack.

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After a good fight and a few quick pics I sent him on his way (can only keep slot reds for BCKFC tourneys).  A few more casts and I soon began catching trout.  In short time I had six in the boat, from 14-16″, and then I found out I hadn’t put enough distance between myself and the launch.  Some dude had the nerve to paddle right through the spot I was catching fish even after I told him to come around behind me.  I was displeased so I pushed further.  As I got further I decided to sabotage my tournament plans and target bull reds.  The weather was too nice not to.  Winds were light, water was clear, the tide was right, and we’d have plenty of chances for bright sun.

I paddle-poled my way through a lot of good looking water looking for redfish sign, but really wasn’t seeing much of anything.  Finally as I was working the flat of a long, wide bayou I started to see some activity.  At the mouth of a smaller trenasse I caught one that went about 33″.

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Then later I spotted a pair of bulls cruising the shore and was able to pick off the closer one with a good cast.  He went about 35″.

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Each of these fish I tagged and sent on their way.  They weren’t tournament fish, but I didn’t really care.  When conditions allow for sightfishing bull reds, that’s what I want to be doing, so that’s what I did.  I hooked up with another fish after I rounded the corner into a cut and saw him cruising down the shoreline toward me.  I didn’t get him to the boat though as he eventually spit the hook.  He was another junior bull, not a monster like I was hoping.

I finally decided enough had been enough and I may as well weigh what I had, so I made my way back toward the weigh-in, figuring I might be able to run into some slot fish along the way.

I did run into slot fish, that were way up in the skinny water ponds, but they were the spookiest fish I’ve ever encountered, I couldn’t get them to bite to save my life.  It is a strange day when sightfishing bull reds is easier than catching slot fish.

I picked up a few more trout under the Leeville bridge along the way, but really I had already conceded the tournament.  It was a sabotage and a successful one at that and I would do it again if given the opportunity – it was a lot of fun.

 

BCKFC held a tournament this past weekend and that can only mean one thing, well two things really, conditions were brutal and good times were had by all.  These things still hold true in the seven or eight years I’ve been fishing their events.  If you are a kayak fisher and you’ve yet to make a Paddlepalooza or a Fall N Tide, you are truly doing yourself a disservice.  Yeah the weather is bound to be crappy, but the food, the friends, the fishing, and the overall atmosphere is rivaled by no other kayak tournament, at least that I’ve been to.

Fall N Tide was Saturday down at Cypress Cove Marina and I fished the lower Plaquemines area on both Friday and Saturday.  I did my best in the constant 20+ mph winds and sketchy low water conditions and managed a 4th place finish in the leopard red division.  Not my best, but no complaints here after a tough Saturday on the water.  Although conditions on both days were very similar, I could not replicate the success I had on Friday, and I heard that same story from many kayak anglers at the weigh-in on Saturday.

Friday was a scouting day for me, but when I say scouting I mean fishing, as scouting isn’t that much different than a regular day on the water for me.  What made it a scouting trip was I got to fish a new area I hadn’t before and despite the poor conditions I really hammered the redfish in the morning, with pretty much all of them caught sightfishing.

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I arrived at my roadside launch shortly after sunrise on Friday and was greeted with a stiff wind, bright blue skies, and low water.  Water clarity, as I’d come to find out, was good near the launch, but not so much as I began to venture further away.  I picked a spot to explore where I could be protected from the relentless Northeast wind that was predicted for both Friday and Saturday – which ended up being a good call as I was able to do a lot of fishing without being blown all over the place.  I started fishing as soon as I launched and was into redfish in a matter of minutes.

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The marsh was full of small shrimp and minnows and redfish and gar were blowing up schools of bait along the thick stands of cane.  It was a beautiful sight to see and I was happy to toss a Matrix shad into the mix and wait my turn.  Unfortunately due to the forecast I left the fly rods at home, figuring the wind would have me frustrated, and brought only tournament tackle.  The shore grass at this spot however was tall enough to provide plenty of wind protection and I was kicking my self for not at least having one fly rod to have fun with.  I’m only kicking myself in retrospect, it was still a blast, no matter the tackle.

In an attempt to avoid any pre-fishing juju I didn’t keep a single fish and used whatever available tags I had on me at the time.  Afterwards I thought about it and wondered what would be said if I did end up weighing in a fish on Saturday that I had tagged on Friday, it would probably raise some eyebrows but also amuse at the same time.  This scenario didn’t play out, but I certainly would have loved to have the 9 spot red I tagged on Friday pay me another visit on Saturday.

Besides the 9 spot red I managed to catch a red on the other end of the spotted-spectrum.  It was spotless.  It’s rare, but it does happen, and I’ve caught them before.  Redfish look naked without their spots.

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As the morning progressed the reds quit blowing up the bait, but that didn’t stop them from giving themselves away in other ways.  I started to see backs and tails as they crawled along the shallow flats, no doubt looking for crabs, which were also in abundance (bait was everywhere!).

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Although the redfishing was outstanding, they weren’t necessarily great tourney reds, they were low to mid slot fish, great to eat, but not much to weigh-in.  The biggest I caught on Friday went 25.5″, which is not necessarily a keeper red at Fall N Tide.  It would be a good red to have though in the slam division, but probably wouldn’t sniff the big red division so I had to make decision whether or not to fish the same spot on Saturday.  Not catching a single trout or flounder wasn’t making that spot promising either.  I picked up after lunch and headed up the road to hit an old standby and see what was happening up there.  As it turned out, not much was happening up there.  Water clarity was better, but fishing was not.  I caught a few more reds, none bigger than what I had already caught.

With no trout and no flounder at the two spots I hit on Friday I decided to head to a different spot on Saturday a little further up the road.  I’d love to tell you I had an outstanding day and things couldn’t have been better, but it downright sucked.  I launched just before sunrise and made my way to a marsh drain as the sun was peeking above the horizon.  There I hooked a fish under a popping cork and promptly broke him off cork and all.  Typically when this happens the cork comes up and you just chase after the bobbing cork to try and land the fish – a hilarious and entertaining situation when viewed from an outsider’s perspective.  It is a bit maddening when it happens to you on a tournament day, especially when the cork never surfaces.  IT NEVER SURFACED!  What did I catch, the Lochness Monster?

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The rest of the day at this spot was ho-hum, not a single bite.  I take that back, I caught the smallest rat red ever in the middle of a bay looking for trout.  I picked up at lunch time with nothing to show for my troubles and was left with another decision to make, pick up and head somewhere else where I may have a chance to catch a slam or hit the tried-and-true redfish spot I found on Friday.  I conceded the slam and headed to catch some reds.

I got to the spot and talked to a couple guys who were picking up, one had a small slot red and a trout(!) and had caught a couple bull reds as well.  He did say the water had dropped significantly though and things were getting worse.  I launched anyway and headed to the ponds that produced for me the day before – I really just wanted to catch some fish.

The water had dropped and places that I had no problems navigating the day before were big mud flats on Saturday.  There also weren’t redfish blowing up schools of bait like there was on Friday.  The gar were still there, some even doing their best redfish impersonations, teasing me, but eventually I did luck into a 21″ red.

I hit the rest of the spots that worked for me on Friday without success.  I then decided to go check out some interesting looking water (on an aerial) that was across a shallow bay.  I almost couldn’t get there and probably wouldn’t have in a pedal drive yak, but I made it and sure enough as soon as I arrived I saw a crawler.  I somehow kept my cool, waited for my chance to make a good cast to him (he was in a bunch of cane) and connected with him once I got my shot.  He went 23.5″ and had a more spots than two, I didn’t make an effort to count them at the time, I just wanted to get him in the bag.  Anything was better than what I had at this point.  Not long after I connected again on a 22″ red and suddenly I was on some redfish, only problem was that this spot had run out of fishable water and I had to head back across the bay.

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I slowed everything down and began trying my luck for flounder, but it just wasn’t in the cards.  I was tired, hungry, and ready to get off the water.  So I packed it in, called it a day, and headed back to the cabin to take a shower.

The first thing I noticed at the weigh-in was that the line to weigh fish was not very long.  Out of a total of 138 paid anglers, I believe less than half turned in fish.  In fact only three folks turned in complete slams and in our rules three fish slams of any weight will always trump a two fish slam.  My redfish went 5.51 lbs and had a total of six spots – good enough to net me a 4th place finish in the leopard red category.  After a long day of fishing and only bringing four fish to hand, it was nice to take home a plaque and a gift card.

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One cool story from Fall N Tide was that the overall winner was Vlad’s brother from Romania.  He was in town visiting family and Vlad told him “fish the bank for reds, the bay for trout, and the bottom for flounder” and wouldn’t you know it worked.  It just goes to show that everyone has a shot to win a tournament, you just got to get out there and give it your all.

I posted the final results below.  The one category that was really impressive to me was the Big Redfish category.  An 8.93 and an 8.77 lb slot redfish is no joke – those things are hammers that would compete in redfish series tournaments.  Congrats to Rick and Eric for finding those stud reds.  Really, congrats to everyone that made it to the leaderboard, it was a tough day on the water and every placing was well earned and deserved.  Looking forward to Paddlepalooza in April of 2016!

Final Results:

Cajun Slam 
1 Fernando Mihalieseu 10.23 – 3 fish slam
2 Chris Weaver 8.51 – 3 fish slam
3 Rick Jarreau 5.23 – 3 fish slam
4 Steve Neece 9.94
5 Eugene Cortez 8.33
6 Kirk Hess 8.05
7 Lee Wolfe 7.9
8 Brendan Bayard 7.68

Big Redfish
1 Rick Dembrun 8.93
2 Eric Stacey 8.77
3 Craig Brown 7.81
4 Elliot Stevens 7.23
5 Vlad Moldovemu 6.89

Mule Trout
1 Eric Muhoberac 2.49
2 Marty Mood 1.51
3 Jason Powers 1.44
4 Cristine Phillips 1.44
5 Tommy Eubanks 1.43

Saddle Flounder
1 Brian Carson 2.32
2 Chris Cox 1.99
3 Luke Beslin 1.86
4 Stacey Martin 1.18
5 Jared Leroy 1.04

Leopard Red
1 Donny Elliot (9)
2 Tyler Drude (7)
3 Mark Eubanks (7)
4 Ben Roussel (6)
5 Michael Ethridge (5)