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The IFA Kayak Fishing Tour held it’s first Louisiana division tournament of 2014 this past Sunday down in Empire at Delta Marina. 52 kayak anglers signed up to compete in the event and were treated with excellent weather conditions which ultimately meant a lot of nice fish had their pictures taken this past weekend.

With the event being Sunday I had a chance to pre-fish Saturday at an area I thought I could have some success at not too far from the weigh-in. I launched just after sunrise and paddled a short way over to what I hoped would be a trout spot and began plugging away with a Rapala Skitter Walk. It didn’t take long to get into fish and the first fish of the day ended up being the biggest. I was casting my topwater to a point and walking the dog back when a nice baby bull red decided to explode on it right next to the boat. At 28.75″ it would be a fine candidate for tomorrow’s tournament so she (or he – I don’t really know) was tagged in set back in the water. A few casts later around the same point resulted in another explosive take on the topwater, but this time it was a trout. It was a short and stout 17″ speck who didn’t look like she missed many meals. The day was off to a good start.

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Fishing slowed at the point and I made my way through the marsh en route to another hopeful trout spot. As I paddled I noticed that water clarity here was not the greatest, even in the marsh, you could see a paddle blade deep at most. A bummer, but it was certainly still fishable. The tide was up as well, so most of the shallow flats were flooded which meant any sightfishing that would be done on the day was going to be pretty tough.

I found an area where a lot of water was being funneled through a narrow cut in some marsh. I staked out there and begin working the area. In short time I picked up a couple 14.5″ trout clones and an 11″ dink. Satisfied with the find I moved on – this was a scouting trip after all and I now had two spots I could possibly catch trout at tomorrow.

After I caught those trout I decided to do some exploring. I put the Aqua Bound Manta Ray carbon to work and started learning more of the area, fishing here and there. I picked up a couple rat reds in the marsh and then ran into one of my favorite situations – the moving cork. I love finding a moving cork on the water because you never know what is going to be under it – usually it is a solid fish! After a few errant casts I finally made a good one and hooked the line under the cork with my jig. Reeling in the cork I was really surprised to find a 16″ redfish on the end of the line. Who loses an entire cork setup to a 16″ redfish? At least the little guy had a pretty blue tail. The spot he was in had some good oyster bottom so I worked the area a little more and came up with a bit better red at 24″.

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I picked up a couple more slot reds in the marsh on the way back to the truck. Despite the high, stained water I caught them sightfishing. They were floaters so they gave themselves away fairly easily. I ended up having a pretty good day on the water catching around a dozen different redfish and trout. My aggregate for the day was 45.75″ which would have been good enough for sixth in last year’s IFA tournament. I could live with that so I tentatively planning to head back to the same spot on Sunday. I didn’t even make it to the big fish spot that had been recommended to me by a friend.

That evening was the captain’s meeting and one of the main reasons I enjoy fishing these events – I get to hang out with my kayak fishing friends and try to decipher the lies from the truths. One thing that was pretty consistent for everyone was that the water clarity was crap all over Louisiana and there weren’t a lot of big fish being caught. These two things helped cement my decision to head back to the same spot on Sunday. I was on decent fish so why not?

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Sunday morning we were greeted with a beautiful sunrise. I launched and made my way over to the point I had success at the day before. Water clarity today was better than the day before, so I was very optimistic. Doing everything I did the day prior though failed to yield the same results. I didn’t leave the spot empty handed however as a 16.5″ topwater red was all I could muster. Not a good sign but not time to panic. I made my way through the marsh toward the backup trout spot. On the way I ran across a flat that had a lot of activity. A pair of redfish cruised by my line of sight and soon I had an upgrade in the boat. At 23″ it still wasn’t what I was looking for in an upgrade but it would do for now. Unfortunately much like spot number one, the backup trout spot with the moving water failed to produce any fish.

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At this point it was decision time, keep at it where I was at and hopefully pick up a trout and an upgrade at redfish or make the long paddle out to a spot that I was told would produce big trout and potential bull reds. With the weather as nice as it was it really didn’t take much time to pick the home run shot and put my Manta Ray carbon to work again. I was already almost two miles from the launch, this paddle would put me almost four miles away but it would all be worth it if I was able to get on some fish. One thing was for sure at least I didn’t have to worry about the wind.

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The paddle out to the spot went by faster than I thought it would be, I should have timed it but I didn’t. I guess I underestimated the speed of the Cuda 14. The IFA weekend was actually the first time I put my new Cuda 14 to work. I love this year’s urban camo – it is a really sharp looking pattern. The water clarity out here was beautiful. I worked the area hard, with every bait I had tied on. I got on a trout bite just slow rolling a jig through the area, unfortunately the size of the trout was nothing to brag about with 13.25″ being my biggest. I continued to work the area, but couldn’t come up with anything bigger. I decided to head back toward the marsh to try and upgrade my redfish. I was disappointed that all I had to show after the long paddle was a dink trout, but had I not made the paddle I probably wouldn’t have even had a trout, so it wasn’t a complete bust. Plus I got to check out a really cool spot that has lots of potential.

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I fished hard the rest of the day and came up empty. 36.25″ was what I had to turn in. I knew that wasn’t good enough for anything, but I decided to make my way to the weigh-in anyway because it is a good rule of thumb to always turn in your fish. You just never know. After an excellent club sandwich and a lot of BSing with the guys we finally got to hear the results. No surprise here, but Steve Lessard came out on top with 61″. Steve is a friend and an excellent fisherman, he is no stranger to the leaderboard of our local kayak tournaments, when he talks you listen. Richard Webb took second with 59.50″ and big red at 41.75″. Richard was out of Jackson, MS fishing in his first IFA tournament. He got a tip to fish Venice and it paid off for him. I hope we see Richard at the Lafitte event later this summer. Benton Parrott took third with 55″ and big trout at 23″. Benton has a knack for catching big trout and he did it again this past weekend. The rest of the top 20 are below:

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As you can tell I finished out of the top 20 – I ended up 24th. What is crazy is that last year 36.25″ would have been 12th and actually been in the money (67 competitors). What a difference a year makes. I remember last year’s weather being much worse, that could explain the low numbers. Or it could be that the competition is getting better, experience is catching up with folks and we are seeing better fish all around. Perhaps it is a little of both.

Congrats to everyone who finished in the top 10 and made money fishing this past weekend. The aggregate lengths were very impressive this past weekend, can’t wait to see what happens at Lafitte on August 3rd.

 

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Saturday

Saturday’s weather forecast was a little misleading. Depending on what website you checked it was going to either be better or worse than Friday, but it wouldn’t be the same. Turns out both were right. It was better at the start and at the end, but way worse in the middle.

Jameson and I decided to hit a different spot on day two, one that gave us a better chance at catching bull reds. We got to our spot, got rigged up, and before we could even take off fish were attacking bait right next to the launch. So we tethered ourselves to the boats and made a few casts. I pulled out an 11.75″ trout, not quite eligible for the tourney. Deciding that these were all probably small trout we shoved off. On the paddle toward our first stop I commented to Jameson “I think we’re about to get rained on” and not five minutes later it started. It was a light sprinkle at first but with time it got heavier. Before it got too bad I managed to land a 17.75″ red to get on the board.

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Then all hell broke loose. It was raining sideways as the wind was ripping. Luckily the spot we fished on Saturday was full of mangroves and I was able to tuck myself right along side them and keep fishing. I made it over to a cut with some moving water and started missing a few strikes. I was finally able to land a 13″ trout. I now had two fish and was feeling pretty good because in this weather anything was possible.

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Jameson and I stayed as close as we could tucked to the mangroves and halfheartedly fished through the storm. When we saw a flash of light in our periphery we knew it was time to get off the water. Just around the corner was a camp, we decided to paddle over and ride out the storm under the shelter of a tin roof.

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That was pretty much the only lightning we saw, but decided to let the heavy stuff pass before we headed back out. While under the shelter all I could think was what good are rain pants and a rain jacket if I’m still soaking wet underneath? Water ran out of my sleeves as I held my hands down by my side. I couldn’t think of a time when I had fished in worse conditions. We wondered if we’d get a phone call from the folks at the IFA soon telling us to head back in for safety reasons, but that call never came and I’m glad it didn’t.

Things eventually calmed down and we made it back out on the water. By this time the tide had nearly fallen all the way out and all the nearby marsh banks had exposed mangrove roots sticking out of the water. It didn’t take long to hear the redfish working. As the water fell out of smaller tidal creeks into larger channels, redfish began to stack just below the outfall. I picked up a nice upper slot red at one of these spots.

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That would have been a perfect BCKFC tournament red, but at the IFA I was looking for above slot redfish. As Jameson and I began working up a narrow bayou a redfish made some commotion along the mangroves behind us. I threw a fly in the direction of the shrimp popping out of the water and was hooked up immediately. I was a little unprepared for how big this red was though. Here I am in a bayou no wider than eight foot with razor sharp oysters exposed on the left side of a bend and a tangled mass of mangrove roots occupying a good bit of the right side and only enough room for a kayak in between and of course he wants to go downstream. I somehow avoided getting cut off by the oysters, but the redfish managed to get wrapped around the mangroves and I couldn’t pull him free without actually going in after him. So I get as close as I can to him and park my kayak with the stake out pole. I lay down on the Cuda 12 and start pulling in line with my hands right at the bow. Finally I see his head amongst the mangroves, the fly is firmly planted in his jaw, but he’s in mangrove roots like it’s a jail cell, so I finally manage to pull his head out of the water and drag him into the boat. Let me tell you hand lining a 28″ redfish is a chore. You can see the oysters and the mangroves I was working with in the pic below.

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I couldn’t believe a redfish of that size was back up in there, but I was definitely relieved to get him in the boat. Eventually that creek got too narrow and we had to turn around. When we came back out to the main channel there was all kinds of nervous water. We spotted a big redfish cruising with his back out of the water. Jameson and I were both casting to him and I managed to hook up. I could tell something was wrong though because he had a lot more leverage than is typical in a redfish fight and it wasn’t due to his size. Turns out I foul hooked him in his dorsal fin so unfortunately this fish wouldn’t count for me. It would have been an upgrade too at 29.5″.

We kept at it, having a heck of a time watching redfish crushing bait in narrow mangrove lined creeks. The oysters finally did their work and as I hooked up on another redfish right at the boat the line broke in half. Soon enough the tide switched and once water began to fill those creeks it seemed like someone turned the lights out on the activity. The water muddied up and things shut down.

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Jameson had a decent slot red and just needed a trout to finish out the day so we headed back toward the spot where I picked up mine. I let him have the hole and wouldn’t you know it he pulls a 17″ trout out of the water. With that fish he actually was an inch up on me for the day. We called it quits soon after that and headed back to the launch. With 41″ I figured I didn’t have much of a shot to make the top 15, but I still thought we made the most out of a crappy weather day.

It was a lot of fun to hear everyone recount their day at the weigh-in. Weather was the main theme among the competitors. Someone flipped their boat while a wave took them into a jetty. Another lost a paddle only to have it recovered two hours later by a friend. The IFA tournament has an accompanying television show on NBC Sports network and for the Championship a camera boat follows a different competitor each day. They didn’t get much footage on Saturday because the weather forced them off the water.

There were tough conditions for everyone and those that persevered were rewarded. Good friends and fellow BCKFC members Steve Lessard and Brendan Bayard took top honors overall.

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Steve won the tournament with around 114″ total and Brendan finished second with 105″ and was angler of the year on points. Jared Waites of Florida took third place at 104″. The rest of the results are below:

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Although I didn’t think I had much of a shot at placing I was actually able to move up from 13th to 8th and took home a check! Weather was the great equalizer and just catching four fish to put on the board over two days was challenging enough for many competitors. At 8th place I was actually the top paddler of the group – I’ll take those little victories anywhere I can get them.

The tournament as a whole was a lot of fun, the fishing ended up being pretty good despite the conditions. The conditions are what make it a challenge and I think that just adds to the fun. It was cool to meet some other Jackson teamers and spend some time fishing with Jameson, who ended up 18th, just three places out of the money. I know he wants to come back down next year for some redemption.

A tentative schedule for the IFA events in 2014 was handed out at the weigh-in and it looks like the Louisiana events are scheduled for May 18th in Empire and August 3rd in Lafitte with a potential championship Oct 17-18 in Houma again. Those dates and locations are subject to change. Hope all the kayak fishermen out there consider joining the fun next year.

 

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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.