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This past weekend Paddlepalooza XII was held out of Top Water Marina in Leeville, Louisiana.  289 kayak anglers signed up to fish the event, the most ever in the tournament’s history.  Quite an accomplishment to set the attendance record given the weather leading up to and forecast for the day of the event – I feel like it rained every day last week and the weekend wasn’t looking any better.  Friday was lining up to be the best weather day to fish all weekend, so I headed down a bit early and gave myself enough time to fish before dark.

I made it down to Leeville around lunch and got out on the water shortly after.  Early on it was overcast with slight wind, that gave way to blue skies and little to no wind.  It was hard to believe that Saturday’s forecast was rain all day.

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I’ve pre-fished for past tournaments in spots that I wanted to fish on tournament day thinking I needed to make sure fish were there.  This year I changed that up.  I actually had a strategy that I thought may work so I wanted to stick to it, no matter what happened on Friday.  I’ve caught too many flounder and big(ger) trout on Fridays in the past, so I intentionally fished a back-up spot that I didn’t plan to hit on Saturday.  I picked up a few trout, with the biggest going 17″ and got a baby bull red that went 32″.  Fish came on topwater, Vudu shrimp under a cork and tightlined soft plastics.

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That night was the captain’s meeting where I got to see the badass bling given out to 6th thru 10th place at the AFWC.

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I stayed on the water until dark and unfortunately missed out on the annual pastalaya dinner, a real bummer.  On the flip side I was able to maximize my time on the water when it wasn’t raining and got to see a large school of black drum feeding on a shallow flat, their big white tails out of the water waving at me.  Without a fly rod in the boat and fading light all I could really do was watch.

I was woken early the next morning to a light show through the blinds and some heavy sandblasting on the side of the cabin.

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The bottom had fallen out, monsoon conditions were upon us, the seas were angry.  I just hoped it would be done by 5:00am, which is when we could put lines in the water.  Of course I couldn’t go back to sleep, so I got ready in the dark and headed out to sit in my truck at the put-in.  I got ready in the rain and waited for most of the lightning to move on before I took off.  While it was dark I threw topwater at every fishy looking spot, hoping to get a trout.  This was the plan – start with a topwater trout, then move to some productive flounder water, hopefully getting a redfish as bycatch, then head to some redfish ponds that I liked for an upgrade.  You know plans never go how they are supposed to.

No trout came on the topwater, so I switched to the Gulp under the cork, I figured this would be a good search bait, even if it had to be fished slow.  With all the south wind the water in the marsh was high, spots where I’ve always seen the tops of oyster beds were under water.  Water clarity was pretty good though considering the downpour though so I wasn’t too bothered by the high water.  I caught a couple 17-18″ reds on the Gulp.  I thought the first red was a flounder he came out of such shallow water.  Still no trout in my trout spot, so I moved on.

I began fishing some cuts that drained some marsh and led to a bigger canal.  I’ve picked up flounder here in the past (though that was a long time ago).  I was alternating between the Gulp and a tightlined Matrix shad (green hornet).  I made a bad cast into the mouth of a cut that got hung up on a bit of grass and left the bait dangling in the water.  As I worked to free the line the bait got hit and I set the hook.  It was a flounder! I worked him toward the boat, leading him the whole, never lifting his head out of the water, as he got close I could see my jig hooked solid so I flipped him in the Kilroy.  Another great reason to love the Kilroy – tournament fish aren’t jumping out of this boat.  I was stoked to land the 14″ flounder on tourney day and knew that I had the makings for a small slam at this point, but a slam nonetheless, now I just needed to find a trout.  I stayed and worked the likely trout spots where I was at and decided it was time to move when the weather worsened.

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Picture note – I didn’t want to risk taking a picture of the flounder on the water, so I took one in the back of the truck.  These things are notorious for slipping the hands of even the most skilled anglers.

Not catching a trout at the spot where I expected to was a bit of a bummer, but at least I caught some the day before, so I headed back that way to hunt one down.  I only needed one for the slam.  That was motivation in the lousy weather – any other day I probably would have been off the water.  Also motivating was the fact that less than 10 slams were turned in last year, so I figured if I could just get it, maybe I’d be in the money.

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I worked wind blown points and cuts in the marsh and anywhere that had moving water hoping for a trout and I began catching fish, but they were all rat reds.

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Then I hooked into a good fish.  It was putting up a good fight, I knew it was my redfish upgrade, but he just kept fighting.  The longer it took for me to get him in the boat the more I feared he would be too big.

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My worst fears came true, that joker was a solid 27.5″, with the longest tail I’ve ever seen.  Half an inch over the slot.  What a heartbreaker, a nice fish, but no good on tourney day.  All I could do was keep fishing.

So I kept fishing and soon the rain stopped.  But when the rain stopped, the wind picked up, soon enough ponds had white caps in them.  I had to anchor at every point I wanted to fish now.  At a particular point that looked good I was able to pick up the trout I was after.  I didn’t measure him, I knew he would keep so I put him in the fish bag as fast as I could, the last thing I needed was for that fish to jump out the boat.

Now all I had to do was upgrade my fish.  The easiest fish to upgrade is typically a redfish, it is also the fish that will get you the most weight.  It is a key component in a cajun slam to have a heavy slot red.  The one I currently had was no good.  The Gulp under the cork was the most effective bait I was using on the day so I stuck with it.

I picked up catfish here and there and more rat reds and moved a ton, searching.  Finally I got to a spot where some terns (liar birds) were hitting the water in a small pond that led to a cut off a canal.  Conventional wisdom says you can ignore liar birds, but I figured bait is bait and on a day like today I’ve got to at least give it a shot.  Sure enough I picked up a rat red, then an upgrade on my next cast.  It wasn’t as big as I would have hoped but it was 20+”.  Again, I didn’t measure it, just knew it was bigger and got it in the fish bag.

I fished a bit longer, but by this point it was approaching 2:00pm and I had about all of the wind I could take.  I had a slam, got my redfish upgrade, I was pretty happy with how I had done in the conditions.  It wasn’t as heavy as I would have liked, but I thought I had a good shot at top 10.

After a burger at Tyd’s and a shower I got in line to weigh my fish.  I don’t remember exactly what my total weight came out to be, but knew it was somewhere in the 6.75-7.00 pound range.  Some folks assured me it was good enough, others didn’t seem so confident, I really didn’t know what to think.  I told myself I didn’t really care because I was happy how I was able to execute on tourney day and get a slam, and I was, but I’m not gonna lie, I wanted to be rewarded for that long day on the water.  I busted my ass, I wanted that top 10.  I saw it as something that would validate my planning and for following through with a slam on a tough day.

With 88 anglers turning in fish and 7 different categories to fill out, it takes a while to sort the details and get to the results.  Bayou Rum helped that go by, thanks to them for sending down some bottles to sample from.  Everyone was really impressed, personally I enjoyed their new Select series.  Bayou Rum is distilled right here in Lacassine, Louisiana using Louisiana sugarcane.  It was good stuff and you can’t argue with the design of the graphics and bottle, really well done.  Good job Brendan.

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It finally came to results time and a few things stood out.  It was awesome to see a couple ladies do really well, Darla Flanagan and Jennifer Brunning hauled in a couple of stud redfish and finished 2nd and 3rd in that category.  Darla also had a nice trout to take home the Ladies Slam division – a heck of a day given the conditions.  Charlie Jones took 3rd in the trout division, he looked to be high school age, very cool to see a youngin’ making it to the leaderboard.  When they went through the flounder results and my name wasn’t called, I was hopeful I made it to the slam category, but I also knew that my flounder weight was less than 1.65 lbs, so that wasn’t a good sign.  Sure enough, after the eighth place slam was 7.11 lbs I knew that I just missed the cut.  I haven’t seen the final results yet but figure I’m somewhere in that 11-15th place range.  It was very disappointing. Update: The final results are out, my slam weight was 6.8 lbs. I came in 11th place.

For a day when the weather was a factor all day, there were a lot of nice fish turned in.  Flounder numbers were up big time this year from last year. The winning slam size wasn’t any bigger, but we definitely had more slams than last year.  I had a good day and it was disappointing to walk away without anything, but I can hang my hat on the fact that I had a plan, stuck to it, was able to tweak it when things didn’t go as planned, and finally ended up with a slam – which was the goal when I started at 5:00am.  Hopefully next year I can do it again, get some bigger fish and I’ll see my name on that leaderboard.

Paddlepalooza XII Leaderboard:  

Cajun Slam
1 Toby Armand 10.33 lbs
2 Doug Menefee 9.84 lbs
3 Michael Ethridge 9.76 lbs
4 Devon Beltz 9.23 lbs
5 Mark Brasset 8.18 lbs
6 Cody Draggo 7.68 lbs
7 Benton Parrot 7.33 lbs
8 Tommy Eubanks 7.11 lbs
9 Bill Crawford 6.98 lbs
10 Jeff Robinson 6.82 lbs

Redfish
1 Ryan Page 7.71 lbs
2 Darla Flannigan 7.61 lbs
3 Jennifer Brunnings 7.41 lbs
4 Chuck Baham 6.84 lbs
5 Norman walker 6.14 lbs

Trout
1 Darren Kimble 3.86 lbs
2 Steve Lessard 3.23 lbs
3 Charlie Jones 3 lbs
4 Justin Jennings 2.99 lbs
5 Harry Flannigan 2.49 lbs

Flounder
1 Tammy Hartley 1.92 lbs
2 Zack Lemon 1.73 lbs
3 Fred Trahan 1.70 lbs
4 Sam Spear 1.69 lbs
5 Mark Eubanks 1.65 lbs

Leopard Red
1 Bryan Hurst 13 spots
2 Jeremy Jenkins 11 spots
3 Herb Leedy 9 spots
4 Brandon Dozer 8 spots
5 John Thompson 8 spots

Kids Slam
Seth Raspberry Redfish 1.65 lbs

Ladies Slam
Darla Flannigan Redfish 7.61 lbs & Trout 1.63 lbs

This past Saturday I participated in BCKFC‘s Fall N Tide VII kayak fishing tournament. Fall N Tide is held in Plaquemines Parish and has lately been headquartered out of Delta Marina. FNT has seen a steady increase in participation since it’s inception and this year had over 150 participants. I wasn’t originally planning on fishing the tournament though. Amanda and I had plans to head over to College Station to see LSU take on Texas A&M, kind of historic with it being their first year in the SEC, but we bailed out to save money and vacation time. This freed me up to fish the tournament, but didn’t really leave me enough time to pre-fish or make sleeping arrangements, especially with the Grand Isle trip the weekend before. So I woke up incredibly early Saturday and drove down in the dark to launch at twilight. I really didn’t know where I was going to fish, so I put together a loose plan in the car. Launch somewhere I’ve been before, try the area for trout and flounder and most likely catch a red in the process.

This would be the first time I would get to try out my new Earth colored Cuda 12, I picked it up Thursday from Pack & Paddle. Probably not the best idea to fish a tournament out of a boat you’ve never been in, but I figured it couldn’t be that different from the Cuda 14, especially layout wise, which it wasn’t. The Ram Tubes were new to me, but I like the change from the flush mounts. With the Ram tubes you can position your rod at any angle you like.

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I didn’t set up the GoPro or take a whole lot of pictures, it was a tournament so I didn’t want to waste too much time fooling with anything I didn’t have to. I had four rods rigged up; one with a popping cork, one with a topwater, one with a redfish spinner, and one with a just a soft plastic on a 1/16th oz jig head. I started early on with the popping cork and caught a 13″ white trout on my first cast. Not bad for a whitey. I alternated baits for awhile and focused on fishing islands, points, cuts, and coves. I started catching rat reds and white trout with some consistency. It was starting to look like it would be a pretty good day catch-wise. Leopard reds were coming to hand as well, except they were too small.

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The tide was highest early in the morning and was falling throughout the day. The clarity was excellent, I was surprised at how clear the water was. I found a pretty good pattern slowly swimming a soft plastic parallel to the bank, catching undersize and slot reds. As I got to some roseau cane I got a big thump and knew it was neither a trout nor a red. It was a flounder and a doormat at that. I was pretty excited trying to keep the line tight as I reached for my net behind me and swam the fish around my boat. As I netted the fish and brought him into the boat I went Iaconelli for a moment and was pretty audible in my excitement. I don’t normally do that, but I’ve never caught a flounder this large and for it to happen on tournament day was incredible. I didn’t measure or weigh it, it went straight into the ice chest. At this point I had a couple slot reds and a nice flounder so I needed a trout. I continued working the shore, but made a few casts out into the open as well. It wasn’t long before I picked up a 13″ trout. It was 8am and I already had a slam, which was a first for me on a tournament day.

As I continued along the shore I was picking up reds here and there, but none had any size. I also picked up another big flounder. Are you kidding me? Two big flounder in one day? My productive shoreline was coming to an end so I decided to make a run across a large body of water to get to some marsh that I’ve had success at in the past with upper slot reds. As I paddled I couldn’t help but think about just how lucky we were to have such a beautiful tournament day. You can usually count on the wind to blow 20 knots when we schedule a tournament but Saturday was different, it was gorgeous out.

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I made it to a nice marsh flat that I ended up sharing with a raccoon. I stood up and started sightfishing. I was seeing reds with consistency. Some were alone, others in pairs, I even saw groups of 5-6. They were aggressively feeding as well. I was able to upgrade to a 24″ then a 26.5″ fish – pretty much the perfect tournament red because we can only keep slot reds 16-27″. I kept at it for awhile because the fishing was just too insane to pass up. At one point I had a red in the boat freshly landed and another was swimming by, so I pitched him the same jig and ended up with two. I managed to land a few more reds sightfishing and even picked up a little black drum, then I decided that it was time to make one last try to upgrade my trout. It was around noon, with weigh-in starting at 3pm, I had time to devote to trout.

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I headed back to the same spot I was catching white trout and my lone speckled trout in figuring he had siblings around. I worked the area over with Gulp under a popping cork. The area was a big shallow bay with pockets of oyster and debris. I soon picked up a couple white trout and another flounder, but he was much smaller than my first two. I kept at it and soon the cork went down hard, I set the hook and felt that familiar head shake. I was mumbling out loud, “please be a speck, please be a speck…” because I knew he had a little size. Sure enough he was and an upgrade from my previous trout and as I netted him I thought aloud “this may be the winning fish”. My friend Todd was working the same bay with me and we were talking about our days, his not so good, mine pretty awesome. He witnesses me catch this trout and hears me saying this and says, “you better upgrade your trout, I hear Brendan has a BIG slam”. Todd put things back in perspective for me. As good a day as I had meant that everyone would be having a good day, especially guys like Brendan. Brendan, a friend of mine, is always near the top at these tournaments and I had no doubt that he put together an impressive slam.

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I stayed at it, working that same bay, hoping for another trout to come by. That was really the only species that needed upgrading for me. At about 2:30pm I packed it in. The tiebreaker in BCKFC tournaments is time, the earlier you weigh, the better. So I loaded up and headed to the marina to pick up some ice. There I found the LSU game on. I totally forgot all about it. We had just picked off Johnny Football in the 4th and shortly after scored on a nice run by Jeremy Hill. Things were looking good for the Tigers. I listened to the rest of the game in my car as I drove to the weigh-in. It sounded like a made a wise decision to stay and fish the tournament rather than going to College Station. The Tigers played poorly, but still won the game.

Except for the length of my redfish, I had no clue just how big anything was. The Cajun Slam category at Fall N Tide consisted of the heaviest combined weight of a slot redfish, trout, and flounder. I knew my flounder was big, I just didn’t know how big, the redfish was at that upper slot, but a little on the skinny side, and my trout was fairly small, but at least bigger than a school trout.

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As I weighed the fish I got to see just how big my flounder were. The first measured 20″ and weighed in at 4lbs, the second was just under 20″ and weighed in at 3lb 10oz. Without a doubt the biggest flounder I’ve ever caught. I was shocked when I saw the weight on those bad boys. I threw two redfish up there, one was 24″ and came in just over 5lbs, the 26.5″ one was just over 6lbs. Not bad for a slot red, I knew it wouldn’t be the biggest brought in though. Next was my trout, which was around 17.5″ and came in just under 2 lbs. I was pretty happy with the weight, I didn’t think for a second that it would win, but I knew I would place, so I would be going home with something and pretty much paying for my entry.

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As the weigh-in went on I was able to catch up with a lot of the guys and talk about everyone’s days on the water. As I thought, a lot of nice fish were caught, some folks had some incredible days. It started to look like my flounder was the biggest that was caught, which was pretty cool, and Brendan was telling me I was top 3 for sure. He had an impressive slam, but had to submit a smaller redfish because his big one was just over 27″ (state law allows one over 27″ to be kept), so it wasn’t as nice a slam as Todd thought, hence why Brendan was telling me I was top 3. I had no clue what the prizes were, except that I knew the top 2 won kayaks, from there on it was cash. That’s fine by me.

The cajun slam category is always announced last and the sun was down by the time we got there. As I started hearing the weights that were brought in I was getting a little nervous. The guys I was standing with were telling me that I had it in the bag, but I didn’t believe them. Brendan ended up getting fifth, a great day for sure, I’ll admit it, I felt a small sense of pride beating him. It doesn’t happen often, but it sure felt good. As second place was announced I knew I had won the tournament. Benton Parrott, another friend of mine, came in second with 12lbs even. I had come in first by a margin of 10oz. and secured my first kayak tourney win!

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I had won a brand new Hobie Pro Angler 12 donated by the Backpacker, long time sponsor of BCKFC. I was pretty much speechless, Clayton was MC-ing the awards portion and asked me about my day and I’m not sure what I even told him. I think I broke the ice with, “it was a tough, tough day out there”. As I walked away they called me back up and there was Chad Hoover standing with Clayton. He grabs the mic and proceeds to tell that I had won the privilege to join him and one of his Kayak Bass Fishing shows. Then he started the naming off all the destinations that had planned and I could pick whichever I wanted – the Everglades, Canada, El Salto in Mexico…….I was floored. Someone got a good picture of the dumb look I had on my face when he was telling me this.

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This was the icing on the cake. I wasn’t expecting this at all. Apparently it was announced at the captain’s meeting. I didn’t make the captain’s meeting so this was news to me. The PA 12 became bycatch in the prize game, I just won a kayak trip of a lifetime! The details still need to be ironed out with Chad, but I’m pretty stoked about this.

I still drove back to Baton Rouge that night, I had after all promised the wife I would. I was wide awake, fueled by the adrenaline rush of winning a tournament. The next day I took a few more pics of  my catch and cleaned them, we would be having flounder for dinner that night. What an incredible day, one I’ll not soon forget or replicate. It was amazing to finally have a quality day while at a tournament. I’m still shocked that I made all the right decisions; picking a great place to launch, paddling out to catch a big red, coming back to upgrade my trout, working the bank early in the morning for flounder. I am very thankful that my wife is as cool and understanding as she is. I’m also thankful for the club and the sponsors for giving us the opportunity to compete in a well organized, professional style tournament at the local level. I’m not even thinking about the next event and maybe that was the secret to my success at Fall N Tide. Hopefully I’ll be able put it all together again on another tourney day, but if not, oh well, I’m just happy it happened once.

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Who doesn’t love that video/song? Kind of fitting today, we got rained on a bit, but somehow managed to dodge the heavy stuff. I think I have the same reaction that little girl has when she sees all the other bees every time I see a redfish; pure joy.

Today was a bit of a challenge, but a lot of fun, and very rewarding. Hit a new spot for Blake and his dad, but I’ve fished it before with success. The tide was up, and the skies were overcast for the majority of the day. Sightfishing was tough, but I made the most of it and caught redfish, sheepshead, and black drum on the fly, the cajun fly slam. The fly was an experiment, much like last week. I used an intruder style fly that Blake tied up. Something like you would see swung for steelhead in the Pacific NW, but the colors on this fly were drab and I was tossing it in the marshes of South Louisiana. It worked pretty well when I was able to react in time and lay out an accurate cast though I did pull it away from a few fish. Any fly that catches multiple sheepshead is a winner in my book and I hooked a handful today, landing two.

Still digging the 2 second camera mode on the GoPro, what a great way to capture a catch:

A Redfish sequence

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Drum sequence

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Intruder fly hook placement

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