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I finally got the chance to take my first trip in the new Cruise FD from Jackson Kayak.  The fishing was not that great, but it was a good chance to put in a full day in the new boat.

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I fished BCKFC’s Minimalist Challenge, the first tournament of their annual tournament series.  My drive to compete in tournaments has all but disappeared, however, they do provide great opportunities to see old friends and force me to get out on the water.  It’s not that I don’t like to fish any more, it’s just that my priorities have shifted now.  Thus, the lack of posts you see here.  I’m still documenting my trips, but I take far fewer trips than I use to.

Back to the tournament – it has been a bitterly cold winter for our part of the country.  Leading up to the tournament we had a few consecutive days below freezing with snow/ice on the ground, which is unheard of down here.  While the air temps rebounded by tourney time, the water temps did not, so finding fish was going to be a chore, especially for someone as stubborn as myself who refuses to run a depth finder.

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It was a chilly, but beautiful start to the day.  I’ve mentioned it in previous years, but the Minimalist Challenge is a pretty unique tournament in that it is a shotgun launch where every competitor receives the same bag of baits to use and launches at the same time.  The tournament this year, as in years past, was based out of the public launch in Leeville, a launch I’ve had mixed results fishing from.

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With patchy skies and cold water, sight fishing was going to be spotty at best, but that’s how I like to fish so I stubbornly continued my ill-fated pursuit.  The north winds of the strong cold front the week leading up to the tournament combined with the low tide had the tide way out, like 1.5 feet below normal, which meant lots of shallow areas that normally weren’t shallow.  If water temps had been normal this would have been awesome for me and put lots of fish on the flats, but it was the opposite, fish were huddled together in the deepest, warmest water they could find.  I tried to fish some deep spots, but without luck.  My only hope was for the sun to pop out and hopefully some fish would return to the flats during the warmest part of the day.

I enjoyed the new Cruise FD that morning, pedaling provided a whole new dimension to kayak angling.  I covered ground a lot quicker than I had previously, which expanded my range.  The boat was fast and nimble and I put the flex drive to the test running up on a lot of shallow flats.  Somewhere along the way I snapped off a fin on my propeller.  I really don’t know when it happened, I just noticed a different pitch while pedaling so I pulled it up to take a look and there were only two fins.

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Thankfully, it really didn’t seem to slow the boat down any, I was surprised at how well the boat moved on 2/3 prop power.  I need to be a little more cognizant of the drive, the thing is not bomb-proof.  It wasn’t kicking up as readily in the soft mud so I was often pedaling until I realized I wasn’t moving, which may have been a contributing factor to the break.  I’m not used to having a moving prop in the water below me, I’m still very much a newb with a pedal drive so I’m sure the prop break was more user error than anything.

After speaking with a few folks at Jackson the propeller fins were designed to be the first things to break when the drive is stressed, thus protecting the internal gears and allowing for a cheap and easy fix to the unit rather than a super expensive one.  This is the first time I’ve had to go through the warranty process on Jackson’s website, but it was a quick and easy online form.  I had a new fin at my door later that week and it took all of five minutes to pop out the old one and put the new one on.

Back to fishing – activity was very minimal that day.  I didn’t see a ton of bait or fish movement at all.  I tried deep holes in bayous, drifted flats in big bays and everything in between.  I pedaled over and spooked a small school of reds staged in front of a cut and was never able to get a bite out of them.

Later I was drifting a flat in front of a cut that another angler, Nick, was fishing in.  He actually hooked up with a red as I was passing.  He told me he saw another and told me to come try to catch it.  I was a little hesitant with it being a tournament, then he told me that was his third red on the day (we could weigh a max of three reds for the tourney) and I felt a little better about crowding his spot.  Sure enough eventually we spotted the big red who seemed to be holding in the deepest part of a tiny marsh cut, he would spook, but then circle back around.  He was probably stuck in there because of the shallowness at the mouth of the cut.  I made a few casts to him to no avail, then put one right under his chin, saw a little movement, felt a little weight and set the hook.  A short while into the fight it was evident I wouldn’t be weighing him in the tournament because he was too big.

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The bait wasn’t even in his mouth when I brought him in the boat, I hooked him right under the chin.  Fair hooked or not he went 30.5″, which is par for the course for me during Minimalist Challenge – I never do well in this tournament.  I was happy to at least boat a fish on a day when it seemed like I was destined for a skunk.  I thanked Nick for letting me catch that red then moved on, letting him have that little cut to himself.

I tried to find a similar cut holding fish, but didn’t run into any the rest of the day that were holding fish.  I did hook one other fish while drifting a flat when I threw my bait on top of a black drum foul hooking him.  Thankfully he pulled free before I was able to land him.

Fishing had been tough and I had covered a ton water, so I headed back to the launch with nothing to weigh, but at least feeling accomplished for having explored some new water thanks to the new Cruise FD.

 

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.

 

BCKFCs annual Minimalist Challenge tournament was held this past Saturday down at Coco Marina in Cocodrie, LA. The Minimalist Challenge represents the clubs first tournament of the year and is the first in a five part tournament series to determine the clubs “Angler of the Year”. The tournament boasts an interesting format – all competitors are given the same five baits and must use only what is given to them. You lose those five lures and your fishing is done for the day Bringing additional tackle is also an automatic disqualifier from the tournament. Species eligible to be weighed in are speckled trout, redfish and flounder. Only state slot and bag limits apply so competitors could possibly bring in as many as 45 legal fish as the goal was total bag weight. On top of that all competitors launch from the same place at the same time so everyone has access to the same water. This format makes Minimalist Challenge as fair an event as is possible, perhaps even more so this year as this is the first time BCKFC has had a tournament out of Cocodrie. Baits for the tournament were provided by Texas Tackle Factory and jigheads provided by Superior Tackle.

The baits:

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Photo: Sherman Walker

I was happy to have gotten the chance to do a little scouting last weekend, a little disappointed with the results, but at least I wasn’t completely blind going into Saturday. Opting to drive down Saturday morning, Blake and I left “super early” to make sure we made it in time to receive our lures prior to the 5:30am shotgun launch. “Super early” now is a lot different than “super early” when I was in college and this should be read “extremely crazy early” by all those still in school. In fact most of y’all would probably just be getting home from the bar by the time we left. Why we have a 5:30am launch for a January tournament is beyond me as it was very cold start to the morning. At least though it was still, which is a huge improvement over typical tournament weather which includes rain, wind and less than stellar water conditions. We did have those less than stellar water conditions however as the tide had been blown completely out as the result of a week long cold front prior to Saturday. Although our winds were somewhat out of the south throughout the day, water levels around Cocodrie remained miserably low and visibility was poor in most areas. It was going to be a struggle to say the least.

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According to my GPS track from Saturday Blake and I covered a distance of around 8.2 miles on with a majority of that time spent looking for fish or good looking water. We found activity in one section of shoreline, stretching maybe 1/3 of a mile and that is where I missed one strike and landed my first and only redfish. A 26″ fish that weighed in around 6 lbs. These fish were found because I spooked a school of small reds(not hard to do on a day like Saturday) and decided to sight fish the area while I knew redfish were there. The first fish I hooked spit the hook as slack developed in the line as I went for my stakeout pole. I thought I had a solid enough hookset, but short shank hooks and fat bodied jigs are a bad combination. The fish that I actually landed gave me a bit more of a heads up to his presence and I could see him pushing a wake some distance away, one well placed cast and a short fight later and he was in the boat. I made sure he hit the fish bag and didn’t even stop for a photo op.

As I continued down the shoreline I had no idea that I was leaving the only action I’d find all day and a better strategy would have been to let that school settle and then try to pick them apart. Usually when I fish the marsh more redfish are just around the corner and if I miss one it’s no big deal, but Saturday was different. For some reason that was the only spot we found them at and my catching of one fish was something around 70 other people couldn’t even muster, including Blake. With only 13 people weighing in fish, I came in 11th. And I thought last weekend was tough.

The results

1st Place – Denis Soigner
2nd Place – Charlie Daigle
3rd Place – Doug Menefee
4th Place – Chris Cox
5th Place – Randy Robichaux
Big Fish – Clayton Shilling
Leopard Red – George Hoban Jr.

Congrats to anyone who caught a fish on Saturday, especially if you caught more than one. It was really tough out there and I know that everyone in the top 10 worked their tails off for those fish. I believe only two trout were caught this past Saturday which is a complete 180 from the way this tournament has gone years past – typically the guys who brought in a lot of trout took home top honors whereas this year a limit of reds put you in the mix. I look forward to the rest of the series and hope that this 11th place finish ends up being my worst.

Really happy to make it out for the first time in a long time, though the trip ended up being somewhat bittersweet. I fished Cocodrie today so that I wouldn’t be totally blind when Minimalist Challenge rolls around next weekend. This was a pure scouting trip as I’ve never fished the area. It was a nice change of pace from the typical Hwy 1 trip, but it’s obvious that I need to spend more time in the area to really learn the ins and outs.

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I met Steve at the launch and we were greeted with slick calm water and low tides to start the day. Reds spooked off the banks of the canals we traveled as we made our way to our destination. After a while the amount of reds that were pushing was just too much for me to pass up and I began to sightfish. Reds seemed to be everywhere, but they were super spooky. The water was pretty clear, so that didn’t come as such a surprise, but even when a cast was perfectly placed they were not very aggressive to eat. It was a bit frustrating, I felt like I was doing everything right, but I wasn’t getting any results. Eventually I got off the schneid with a nice baby bull at 31.5″. Unfortunately I didn’t take him on the fly as I had a jig in my hand at the time. I didn’t want to switch rods and blow my shot.

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I stuck to the fly rod after that, unfortunately the number of redfish I was sighting began to decrease. I did manage to get one to the boat. At 25″ he puts me on the board for the Massey’s CPR tourney.

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Shortly after this fish, the tide turned, winds picked up and most of the water I came across became turbid. Reds were difficult to see after that and paddling became quite a chore. I headed back to the launch with my tail tucked between my legs as Mother Nature had defeated me. It’s been too long since my last paddle and my body was letting me know that.

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Not the stellar trip I hoped I’d have, but a trip nonetheless. Hopefully next weekend goes a little differently and more fish make it to the boat. Cocodrie has a lot of potential for the sight fisher, I look forward to spending more time here.