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Tomorrow is the annual Beer & Gear event over at Pack & Paddle.  This is always a great event to see the latest in outdoor recreation gear.  The craft beer from across the US is a plus too.  It brings two of my favorite things together so I’m hoping I can slip away and head across the Atchafalaya Spillway.  It’s from 5-8pm so if you’re anywhere near Lafayette tomorrow evening, be sure to head over because you don’t want to miss it.  I hear the big raffle this year is Steve Lessard’s kayak from the 2016 Hobie Fishing Worlds event!

With Beer & Gear tomorrow, that also means it is the start of demo season.  On Saturday Pack & Paddle will be doing a kayak demo from 10am – 2pm over at Vermilionville.  Acadiana residents – head over there if you’re interested in trying out the latest kayaks.  Also on Saturday, if you’re around New Orleans, Massey’s will be holding their first demo day of the year at Bayou St. John, which will be from 10am – 3pm.  The location is across from Cabrini High School, 1405 Moss St.

It’s that time of year, there’s no excuse if you’re in the market for a new kayak or have been wanting to try out the new models not to head out to a demo.  They are free and are the best way to try out as many different makes and models as possible to see what will fit you best.  Whenever someone asks for some good advice in picking a new kayak, the best thing anyone can tell them is “demo, demo, demo”.  I’ve found it really important to try as many different boats as you can before making a purchase because sometimes which one is your favorite will surprise you.

I had to work on the “Best Bank” earlier this Fall and found myself with a little time to kill not too far away from the Jean Lafitte NHP.  I decided to check it out and get a bit of exercise walking some of the trails.  Jean Lafitte seems like one of those places that gets forgotten about alongside all the other attractions New Orleans has to offer, I know that I’ve driven past it a few times without even thinking twice about stopping.  I’m glad I finally gave it a go because I really enjoyed my walk in the swamp.  The park boasts an incredible amount of boardwalk that winds it’s way into the Northern  Barataria estuary – the swamp was beautiful and the critters were plentiful, but I couldn’t get over the fact that I walked a few miles on boardwalk, someone had to put all that together!

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In the past few years I have really grown to appreciate a good beer.  It is no coincidence that the rest of the US seems to feel the same way, as craft brewing in America is bigger than it has ever been.  These are exciting times for beer geeks, a little overwhelming at times, but exciting.  For once Louisiana is not being left behind either.  Several new breweries have come online in the past few years and, as a state, we’re slowly building quite a catalog of craft breweries.  I’m proud to say that my cousin Lindsay is now officially in that number.  Lindsay and her husband Scott have talked about opening up a brewery in New Orleans for a few years now and just recently they accomplished that goal with the grand opening of the Courtyard Brewery.  I happened to be working in the New Orleans area that week and was able to stop by to check the place out and grab a couple pints of deliciousness.

Their first day open was also the first day they were allowed to start brewing so they didn’t have any of their own beers available (not sure if that has changed yet, but I think a session IPA was going to be their first offer), but that really didn’t slow them down.  They operate a little differently than you’re standard brewery and offer 12 rotating guest taps with only top shelf craft brews.  They are fans of West Coast style beers so Lagunitas, Green Flash, New Belgium, Stone and North Coast were all represented.  The one local option that made the cut was the Korova Milk Porter from Gnarly Barley, and it was obvious why as it was damn good.  In fact I’m pretty sure it was the first to keg to tap out on the night.

The brewery itself is small, so small it is being dubbed a nano-brewery.  Their brewing equipment is slightly larger than what you would have at home, so don’t expect to find any of Courtyard’s beers at your local grocer.  Because of it’s size don’t expect a big brewery tour either – if you’ve taken one brewery tour though you know the process – beer is made the same everywhere, with the same 4 ingredients – water, yeast, malt and hops. The brewery felt more like a tasting room and I’m pretty sure that is the vibe they are putting out there.  I really enjoyed the atmosphere and the tap list was superb, I left just as the food truck started serving, but I’m pretty sure they will be doing that as much as possible.  All of the beers offered were $5-6 for a heavy 16 oz pour, a heck of a deal, so if you’re looking for a good place in New Orleans to get good beer at a good price, go check out Courtyard at 1020 Erato St.

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We took advantage of a Saturday in the Park this past weekend to attend the 67th annual City Park Big Bass Rodeo and Fishtival in New Orleans. I competed in the first annual Boats on the Bayou tournament and was shocked to hear that 88 others did as well – that’s a ton of kayak fishermen for little old Bayou St. John!

With the top prizes going to those who caught the few resident bayou redfish most of that kayak fishing crowd focused their efforts on the section of bayou closest to Lake Pontchartrain. I thought that would be pretty fruitless after the massive deluge the area received leading up to the event so I focused on bass. Fishing around Demourelles Island with a Texas rigged worm netted me a few small bass – so small I was too embarrassed to take them over to the weigh station. Later in the day I was able to land a bass worthy enough to weigh – it was 13.75″ and a little over a pound. He hit the worm as I tried to untangle a terrible cast I made into a tree, quite the lucky break, maybe a sign I needed to slow it down.

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The tournament was a pretty quick one, starting at 7:00am and ending at 10:30am, so I paddled toward the weigh station thinking my little bass might actually place. At the weigh station I found out it wouldn’t be the top bass as a 3+ lb’er had already been caught. I really didn’t think for a second it would win, but maybe it could place. As it turns out they only announced the weights of the winners at the awards ceremony so I still don’t know where I stacked up against the competition. One would think with 89 people signed up for a tournament, you would at least announce first through third places in each category. Still we enjoyed watching grown-ups act a fool as other grown-ups threw packs of soft plastics from the bandstand.

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Unfortunately no redfish were caught during the tournament. I’m not sure if it was because of all the rain, but maybe I made the right decision not to go after them, I at least got to catch fish. I was questioning the decision not to target them though when I saw my buddy Steve with a 1.5 lb trout on a stringer immediately after I launched! Had me worried the water was salty for a moment, but I think that trout was just lost, I didn’t hear of another one caught. It is pretty cool that you can catch redfish, trout, bass and bream all out of one body of water, right here in the city. I’m not sure many places can boast that.

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After the tournament and awards ceremony (results here) we took a stroll around the Sculpture Garden. It was the perfect time of year for it too as the azaleas are in full bloom and the live oaks are beginning to leaf out. The irises were looking a little ragged, but I’m guessing it is still a little early for them. Two of the pieces of art really wowed us and I think you’ll see why in the pictures.

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After that we headed on up the bayou to where Massey’s was having an on the water kayak demo day. What started off as a foggy, chilly morning turned into a hot and sunny affair perfect for paddling a kayak. Marin really took to the new Cruise 10 and who could blame her – it looks like the perfect little fishing boat for tykes.

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Happy Mardi Gras everyone! No work for us today here in Louisiana, but the weather has been awful so we’ve just been doing a bit of Spring cleaning. This weekend however was beautiful and for the first time in a long time we actually made it out to some of the New Orleans parades. Amanda and I did Endymion on Saturday night and on Sunday the whole family went to Thoth. We had a blast this weekend and forgot just how fun Mardi Gras is (we usually try to take advantage of the vacation day and get out of town).

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Endymion lined up.

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Endymion rolling – as expected the crowd was thick. I don’t ever remember Endymion rolling during the day or finishing as early as they did.

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Thoth rolling.

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The 610 Stompers are always crowd pleasers.

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Babes in Toyland.