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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

That is my friend Catch Cormier’s favorite line about the annual Spring kayak fishing tournament organized by BCKFC, now in it’s 11th year. After attending the event this past Saturday, he couldn’t be more right! Everyone involved put on one heck of a show for the 244 folks that signed up.

I missed out on the Friday night festivities and opted to leave super early Saturday morning. I didn’t make any scouting trips prior to the tournament so I decided to limit my tournament day options to places I’ve had success at in the past catching all three slam species; redfish, trout, and flounder. I was running a little late and wouldn’t make it on the water by 5:00am, but that gave me a chance to see just what LA 1 looks like during a tournament day. Every place you could toss a kayak in the water had a vehicle and the more popular options had vehicles lined up on the shoulder. It was pretty amazing to see just what kind of impact we kayak fishermen can have on a community come tournament time.

Lucky for me my spot was empty and I was on the water just before the sun came up. For the next 2-3 hours the winds were calm and the weather was perfect, the only downside to that was it meant the gnats and mosquitoes were out in force. The fishing though in that time was so good that the I wasn’t bothered by the bugs (being covered in clothing from head to toe helped as well). Fishing an oyster lined pond I had an incredible morning catching redfish and trout on topwater. When it was dark I threw a Spook Jr. in black/chartreuse and when the sun came up it was a Spook Jr. in bone. I couldn’t tell what the water clarity was upon launching but as the sun came up I could see that it was very nice. After landing about a dozen trout and maybe half a dozen reds the best of each were a 4 lb red and a nearly 2 lb trout. A good start, but I would definitely need to upgrade each.

I started working the spot for flounder focusing primarily on the places I had caught them in the past. Points and cuts in the marsh and anywhere the water moved were the areas I was targeting. At about lunch time I decided to pack it up and head up the road to try a different spot.

I didn’t realize just how windy it was after leaving the first spot, but I sure felt it upon arrival at the second spot. Conditions had deteriorated but I wasn’t deterred from trying to find a flounder. Water clarity here was very good as well – I guess I could thank that strong Southern wind for that. Bugs weren’t an issue any more either – thanks wind! Again I worked the flounder spots and again I was coming up empty. Knowing that I still needed to upgrade my trout and my red, I continued to throw topwater in likely looking spots. It wasn’ t long before I had a big fish on, only problem was it was a bull red! A fun fight, but not what I needed on tournament day.

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Catching that fish showed me that it was still effective to throw topwater even in terrible conditions, though it is harder to work the bait. Fishing the islands of a big bay I was getting hammered by wind, so I moved on to some marsh to seek shelter. Settling into a cut just to take a break I threw out some Gulp and watched as my cork immediately went under the water. On the other end of the line was a redfish upgrade at 5 lbs! Not a big upgrade, but better than nothing. On the next cast, this time out into the bay and back toward myself in the cut I watched as a red tried to take down the cork! Giving it a pop to take it from his mouth he luckily found the Gulp underneath. Another redfish in the boat, not an upgrade on weight but this one did have 13 spots! I didn’t want to get my hopes up on taking the leopard redfish category (I’ve made that mistake before), but I at least had a shot now.

It was getting close to weigh-in time so I decided to make my way back to the launch, which was of course into the wind across open water. Thank goodness for Jackson’s low seat position and the Aqua Bound Manta Ray blade size. I hardly ever use the low seat position, but this proved to be the perfect situation. I made good time considering I was plowing through building waves heading into the wind.

Back at Bobby Lynn’s standing in line to weigh fish, everyone began to recount the day’s events, which is one of my favorite parts of any tournament. It became increasingly apparent that there were a lack of unicorn, I mean, flounder brought to the scales. By the end of the day I believe only six were weighed. In a slam tournament that pays out to ten places this meant that the back half of the slam placings would be two fish slams (a three fish slam will always beat a two fish slam in a BCKFC tournament, no matter the weight). I knew I didn’t have a shot at a placing with my two fish slam, but it at least took some of those folks with two nice fish out of the individual species categories. The other thing that became apparent was that a lot of leopard reds were brought in. Not just any old leopards either, these were reds with more than a dozen spots – there were two 17 spot reds turned in! My little 13 spot wouldn’t hold up for first and barely hung on for 5th! At least I wouldn’t be going home empty handed though.

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After weighing fish I was able to grab my captain’s bag (including the tee shirt Clayton is wearing in the pic) and shoot the breeze with a lot of the other competitors who have become friends over the years. Although the fishing was pretty tough for most (only 75 weighed fish) I didn’t see any disappointed faces, thus the real reason “there’s never a loser at Paddlepalooza!”. Between the captain’s bags, meals, tournament, raffles, and camaraderie among fellow like-minded individuals, you always come out ahead.

Speaking of raffles, the raffle items this year blew away what has been offered in years past. I should have bought more tickets than I did because there was a lot of good stuff on that table. The officers did a tremendous job with the raffle this year, I was impressed. It made me long for the days when placing in a category meant your pick of prizes from the raffle table.

IMG_2587 In closing, Paddlepalooza XI was a ton of fun, BCKFC knocked it out of the park on this one. I had a great morning catching fish and was lucky enough to take home 5th place leopard red that afternoon. The fried fish dinner was excellent as always – a lot of credit goes to the guys that volunteer to help cook and serve. I think it was a great move to hire fish cleaners this year to help take care of the one job no one really enjoys. Those guys were far more efficient than the average Joe, really cool to watch them work. The raffle went fairly quick considering what it had been in years past and the prizes were off the charts. Things just seem to get better and better with this organization and tournaments. Heck, even the shirt this year was one of the best I’ve seen. Super soft with another great Brendan Bayard design; these things are like collector’s items for kayak fishermen down here in Louisiana. It makes me proud to be a small part of BCKFC and I hope we continue to grow and put on outstanding events. We do a great job getting in state folks to attend, but it would be really cool to see more out of state folks down. The more people we can get registered for events like this, the more money that gets directed to charities like Heroes on the Water and the Palliative Care Foundation of Baton Rouge – the real winners at functions like this. Here’s hoping Paddlepalooza XII is just as successful as this year’s event!

2014 Paddlepalooza XI Results

Cajun Slam – Angler – Weight(lbs) – Prize Won

1st – Jeff Breaux – 10.19 – Hobie Pro Angler 14
2nd – Jason Austin – 8.15 – Hobie Outback
3rd – Wayne Lobb – 6.45 – $1000 Gift Card to The Backpacker
4th – Elliot Stevens – 6.33 – $800 
5th – Bill Crawford – 6.33 – $750 
6th – Steve Lessard – 9.52 (2 fish) – $700 
7th – Chris Holmes – 9.26 (2 fish) – $650 
8th – Brendan Bayard – 8.81(2 fish) – $600 
9th – Tommy Eubanks – 8.45 (2 fish) – $550 
10th – Shane Curole – 8.29 (2 fish) – $500 

Heavy Slot Red – Angler – Weight(lbs)
1st – Justin Pisani – 7.27
2nd – Jonathan Craft – 6.96
3rd – Timothy Caldwell – 6.93
4th – Perry Watts – 6.85
5th – Craig Brown – 6.79 

Mule Trout – Angler – Weight(lbs)
1st – Fred Trahan – 3.72
2nd – Toby Armand – 3.72
3rd – Jeff Suber – 3.56
4th – Sam Speer – 3.19
5th – Scott Harper – 2.94

Saddle Flounder – Angler – Weight(lbs)
1st – Douglas Menefee – 0.87

Leopard Red – Angler – Spots – Prize won
1st – Jason Powers – 17 – KC Kayak
2nd – Dwayne Walley – 17
3rd – Jared Leroy – 15
4th – Matt Lehman – 15
5th – Ben Roussel – 13

Ladies – Angler – Weight(lbs) – Prize won
1st – Barbara Johnson – 5.50 – Custom Bull Bay Rod

Kids – Angler – Weight(lbs)
1st – Rory Craft – 4.60

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This past weekend the city of Houma played host to the IFA Kayak Fishing Tour Championship. Having fished both the Empire and Grand Isle events earlier in the year I was eligible to fish the Championship. The Championship was a two day event in which a total of four fish would be scored – your longest trout and redfish from each day. The winner would be that person with the largest total aggregate length. Boundaries were anywhere within the state of Louisiana, so it was up to each angler to decide how much driving time they wanted to commit to. Everyone would have to drive somewhere to fish and Houma provides a pretty central location to most of the kayak-friendly saltwater fishing destinations found along our coast. Being most familiar with the marsh between Golden Meadow and Grand Isle, I decided to stay and fish along Hwy 1.

This was my first year fishing the Championship, I’ve fished single Louisiana division events in years past, but was never able to fish both and give myself a chance to fish in the Championship. This year I was joined by fellow Jackson team member Jameson Redding, who did pretty well last year in the Championship, which was held in Chalmette, finishing fourth overall. Not bad for a first time Louisiana fisherman. We were joined on day one by Charlie and Melita Ganoe, also on the Jackson team, who were in Houma visiting family – great timing on their part.

Friday

As with seemingly every tournament the weather would factor into the outcome. A cold front was blowing through over the weekend which made things tough on every competitor – there was no avoiding it. Friday’s weather wasn’t the best, but after experiencing what Mother Nature sent our way Saturday, it was a blessing to have Friday. It was overcast and probably blew 10-15 mph throughout the day which made you have to put a little extra effort into every paddle stroke. The day began rather inauspiciously when I found the launch I like to use had gone from public to private. Awesome, time to come up with Plan B on the spot. I decided we should launch from a popular roadside spot instead, although it was somewhere I barely fished conditions should be similar to what I was planning to fish. After launching I parked myself in a cut that had a good bit of moving water. I was able to get on the board early with a 19″ red.

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That was followed by a 16″ flounder which was unfortunately not a target species in this tournament, but I know where he lives come Paddlepalooza time.

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I moved on and fished cuts and points, alternating between a topwater and a popping cork, looking to pick up a trout and at least get two fish on the board. While throwing my topwater on the back side of a wind blown point I had an enormous blow up right next to the boat. It was a nice trout, the biggest I’ve ever caught in the marsh. When I got her in the net she looked to be about 4-5 pounds. I put her on the board and could only squeeze 22.5″ out of her though, what a fatty!

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Working that topwater around a different point produced a similar result.

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This one was just under 20″, so not an upgrade, but still a lot of fun to catch. It was highly unlikely that I’d be able to upgrade my trout, but I could definitely upgrade my redfish so I headed into a pond to look for an upper slot red, or really anything bigger than 19″. Normally in these weather conditions sight fishing would have been impossible, but redfish are suckers for crabs and I could hear them crashing the banks going after them, so call it “sound fishing”, that’s essentially what I was doing. I would paddle around quietly and listen. I was still watching the banks but redfish would often give themselves away by crashing the banks.  Eventually I ran into a redfish that had no business being in the pond he was in as it was no bigger than my living room and there he was with his entire back out of the water.

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31″ was certainly an upgrade and a really good find for a marsh red. At this point I was pretty pumped sitting at 53.5″. I knew guys were going to go out and catch big bull reds and big gator trout around the passes and at the MRGO dam, but this was 53.5″ in the marsh, definitely the best day I’ve had fishing the marsh this year, and this was a last second Plan B at that!

So I probably should have kept paddling toward the big bays to look for a bull red, but I stayed in the marsh and played with the redfish. They’re just too much fun to pass up and that’s why we’re out there – to have fun.

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Caught a few more reds in the ponds on the fly rod, including the above leopard that had 7 spots and even got another flounder in a cut. Plan B ended up being pretty badass. A slam spot with leopard reds? Not too shabby.

We loaded up the kayaks and headed up to Houma to weigh-in and see how everyone else had done. Jameson and Charlie each had a trout and red as well, so we all had some success. It was evident when we got to the weigh-in that everyone else had pretty good days too.

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53.5″ was good enough for 13th. 13th, are you kidding me? I knew there would be some that came in with 60+”, but I figured that would be a handful. 53.5″ would have won numerous single day events across several divisions. Folks came with their A-game to the Championship. Still it felt pretty good to have a good day on day one to set myself up to be competitive on day two. The tournament paid out to fifteen places so that was my goal for day two.

Back in June I had the privilege of filming an episode of Sportsman TV with host Greg Hackney that was focused on kayak fishing. Sportsman TV is a fishing show that airs locally on Cox Sports Television. I got the invite from Blake Gill of Massey’s Outfitters in New Orleans, one of our local Jackson Kayak dealers, who was generous enough to provide kayaks for both Greg and his cameraman/producer/jack-of-all-trades Jared Serigne. I’ve really enjoyed the new format the show has taken this year so helping them out was a no-brainer. Besides Blake and myself, Louisiana Sportsman’s kayak fishing guru Chris Holmes was also on hand.

Due to the presence of Tropical Storm Andrea in the Gulf, we decided the night before to head somewhere we could take cover from the relentless wind conditions we were experiencing.  As we got the launch that morning it was pretty evident that wind wasn’t going to be a factor, in fact it turned out to be a pretty awesome day. The only negative, for me at least, were the high tidal conditions we were experiencing.

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The water was high but we still had a really good day catching redfish. They were holding extremely tight to the grass. Greg picked up on that early on and wore ’em out. I think Greg really enjoyed his time in the kayak. It was his first time in one, but I’m pretty sure he outfished us all.

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I started the day off throwing topwater. I had a few throwback trout explode on my spook. One was right at the boat which was pretty cool to catch on camera. I picked up a couple reds later on and even ended up with a decent flounder to complete a slam.

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I’ve been holding on this report until the episode aired, which ended up being last week. I think Jared did an incredible job editing it all together, the episode came out really good. Anyway, check it out, let me know what y’all think: