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BCKFC held a tournament this past weekend and that can only mean one thing, well two things really, conditions were brutal and good times were had by all.  These things still hold true in the seven or eight years I’ve been fishing their events.  If you are a kayak fisher and you’ve yet to make a Paddlepalooza or a Fall N Tide, you are truly doing yourself a disservice.  Yeah the weather is bound to be crappy, but the food, the friends, the fishing, and the overall atmosphere is rivaled by no other kayak tournament, at least that I’ve been to.

Fall N Tide was Saturday down at Cypress Cove Marina and I fished the lower Plaquemines area on both Friday and Saturday.  I did my best in the constant 20+ mph winds and sketchy low water conditions and managed a 4th place finish in the leopard red division.  Not my best, but no complaints here after a tough Saturday on the water.  Although conditions on both days were very similar, I could not replicate the success I had on Friday, and I heard that same story from many kayak anglers at the weigh-in on Saturday.

Friday was a scouting day for me, but when I say scouting I mean fishing, as scouting isn’t that much different than a regular day on the water for me.  What made it a scouting trip was I got to fish a new area I hadn’t before and despite the poor conditions I really hammered the redfish in the morning, with pretty much all of them caught sightfishing.

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I arrived at my roadside launch shortly after sunrise on Friday and was greeted with a stiff wind, bright blue skies, and low water.  Water clarity, as I’d come to find out, was good near the launch, but not so much as I began to venture further away.  I picked a spot to explore where I could be protected from the relentless Northeast wind that was predicted for both Friday and Saturday – which ended up being a good call as I was able to do a lot of fishing without being blown all over the place.  I started fishing as soon as I launched and was into redfish in a matter of minutes.

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The marsh was full of small shrimp and minnows and redfish and gar were blowing up schools of bait along the thick stands of cane.  It was a beautiful sight to see and I was happy to toss a Matrix shad into the mix and wait my turn.  Unfortunately due to the forecast I left the fly rods at home, figuring the wind would have me frustrated, and brought only tournament tackle.  The shore grass at this spot however was tall enough to provide plenty of wind protection and I was kicking my self for not at least having one fly rod to have fun with.  I’m only kicking myself in retrospect, it was still a blast, no matter the tackle.

In an attempt to avoid any pre-fishing juju I didn’t keep a single fish and used whatever available tags I had on me at the time.  Afterwards I thought about it and wondered what would be said if I did end up weighing in a fish on Saturday that I had tagged on Friday, it would probably raise some eyebrows but also amuse at the same time.  This scenario didn’t play out, but I certainly would have loved to have the 9 spot red I tagged on Friday pay me another visit on Saturday.

Besides the 9 spot red I managed to catch a red on the other end of the spotted-spectrum.  It was spotless.  It’s rare, but it does happen, and I’ve caught them before.  Redfish look naked without their spots.

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As the morning progressed the reds quit blowing up the bait, but that didn’t stop them from giving themselves away in other ways.  I started to see backs and tails as they crawled along the shallow flats, no doubt looking for crabs, which were also in abundance (bait was everywhere!).

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Although the redfishing was outstanding, they weren’t necessarily great tourney reds, they were low to mid slot fish, great to eat, but not much to weigh-in.  The biggest I caught on Friday went 25.5″, which is not necessarily a keeper red at Fall N Tide.  It would be a good red to have though in the slam division, but probably wouldn’t sniff the big red division so I had to make decision whether or not to fish the same spot on Saturday.  Not catching a single trout or flounder wasn’t making that spot promising either.  I picked up after lunch and headed up the road to hit an old standby and see what was happening up there.  As it turned out, not much was happening up there.  Water clarity was better, but fishing was not.  I caught a few more reds, none bigger than what I had already caught.

With no trout and no flounder at the two spots I hit on Friday I decided to head to a different spot on Saturday a little further up the road.  I’d love to tell you I had an outstanding day and things couldn’t have been better, but it downright sucked.  I launched just before sunrise and made my way to a marsh drain as the sun was peeking above the horizon.  There I hooked a fish under a popping cork and promptly broke him off cork and all.  Typically when this happens the cork comes up and you just chase after the bobbing cork to try and land the fish – a hilarious and entertaining situation when viewed from an outsider’s perspective.  It is a bit maddening when it happens to you on a tournament day, especially when the cork never surfaces.  IT NEVER SURFACED!  What did I catch, the Lochness Monster?

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The rest of the day at this spot was ho-hum, not a single bite.  I take that back, I caught the smallest rat red ever in the middle of a bay looking for trout.  I picked up at lunch time with nothing to show for my troubles and was left with another decision to make, pick up and head somewhere else where I may have a chance to catch a slam or hit the tried-and-true redfish spot I found on Friday.  I conceded the slam and headed to catch some reds.

I got to the spot and talked to a couple guys who were picking up, one had a small slot red and a trout(!) and had caught a couple bull reds as well.  He did say the water had dropped significantly though and things were getting worse.  I launched anyway and headed to the ponds that produced for me the day before – I really just wanted to catch some fish.

The water had dropped and places that I had no problems navigating the day before were big mud flats on Saturday.  There also weren’t redfish blowing up schools of bait like there was on Friday.  The gar were still there, some even doing their best redfish impersonations, teasing me, but eventually I did luck into a 21″ red.

I hit the rest of the spots that worked for me on Friday without success.  I then decided to go check out some interesting looking water (on an aerial) that was across a shallow bay.  I almost couldn’t get there and probably wouldn’t have in a pedal drive yak, but I made it and sure enough as soon as I arrived I saw a crawler.  I somehow kept my cool, waited for my chance to make a good cast to him (he was in a bunch of cane) and connected with him once I got my shot.  He went 23.5″ and had a more spots than two, I didn’t make an effort to count them at the time, I just wanted to get him in the bag.  Anything was better than what I had at this point.  Not long after I connected again on a 22″ red and suddenly I was on some redfish, only problem was that this spot had run out of fishable water and I had to head back across the bay.

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I slowed everything down and began trying my luck for flounder, but it just wasn’t in the cards.  I was tired, hungry, and ready to get off the water.  So I packed it in, called it a day, and headed back to the cabin to take a shower.

The first thing I noticed at the weigh-in was that the line to weigh fish was not very long.  Out of a total of 138 paid anglers, I believe less than half turned in fish.  In fact only three folks turned in complete slams and in our rules three fish slams of any weight will always trump a two fish slam.  My redfish went 5.51 lbs and had a total of six spots – good enough to net me a 4th place finish in the leopard red category.  After a long day of fishing and only bringing four fish to hand, it was nice to take home a plaque and a gift card.

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One cool story from Fall N Tide was that the overall winner was Vlad’s brother from Romania.  He was in town visiting family and Vlad told him “fish the bank for reds, the bay for trout, and the bottom for flounder” and wouldn’t you know it worked.  It just goes to show that everyone has a shot to win a tournament, you just got to get out there and give it your all.

I posted the final results below.  The one category that was really impressive to me was the Big Redfish category.  An 8.93 and an 8.77 lb slot redfish is no joke – those things are hammers that would compete in redfish series tournaments.  Congrats to Rick and Eric for finding those stud reds.  Really, congrats to everyone that made it to the leaderboard, it was a tough day on the water and every placing was well earned and deserved.  Looking forward to Paddlepalooza in April of 2016!

Final Results:

Cajun Slam 
1 Fernando Mihalieseu 10.23 – 3 fish slam
2 Chris Weaver 8.51 – 3 fish slam
3 Rick Jarreau 5.23 – 3 fish slam
4 Steve Neece 9.94
5 Eugene Cortez 8.33
6 Kirk Hess 8.05
7 Lee Wolfe 7.9
8 Brendan Bayard 7.68

Big Redfish
1 Rick Dembrun 8.93
2 Eric Stacey 8.77
3 Craig Brown 7.81
4 Elliot Stevens 7.23
5 Vlad Moldovemu 6.89

Mule Trout
1 Eric Muhoberac 2.49
2 Marty Mood 1.51
3 Jason Powers 1.44
4 Cristine Phillips 1.44
5 Tommy Eubanks 1.43

Saddle Flounder
1 Brian Carson 2.32
2 Chris Cox 1.99
3 Luke Beslin 1.86
4 Stacey Martin 1.18
5 Jared Leroy 1.04

Leopard Red
1 Donny Elliot (9)
2 Tyler Drude (7)
3 Mark Eubanks (7)
4 Ben Roussel (6)
5 Michael Ethridge (5)

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BCKFC‘s Fall N Tide X is right around the corner, be sure to get signed up.  Rules, registration and details can all be found here:  http://www.bckfc.org/FNT/.  This is one of my favorite tournaments to fish because inshore fishing down in Plaquemines Parish this time of year is usually on fire.  I’ll be looking for a repeat of my 1st place finish from 2012.  It’s unlikely as this tournament usually draws every solid kayak fisher from here to Alabama, but anything can happen!  Look forward to catching up with everyone down in Venice.

I thought Easter was going to be a pretty laid back holiday for me, but it turned into quite the weekend. I got a call from Amanda’s cousin Blake on Thursday seeing if I could do an overnight trip offshore on Friday. The plan was to fish for swordfish that night and tuna at daybreak, conditions were pretty favorable for night fishing with the full moon. It didn’t take much to convince me I needed to go on this trip, I just had to make sure I wasn’t already booked Friday and Saturday. As my luck would have it, things were pretty wide open Friday night into Saturday afternoon.

I don’t know too much about swordfish except that they are rarely caught during the day and when they are it is at depths over 1000 ft. It is a little easier to catch them at night and they can be caught closer to the surface, but Blake has gone out for swords about a dozen times and still has yet to catch one. He sounded pretty confident, but I wasn’t getting my hopes up for a sword. Tuna though is a different story, I know they catch tuna fairly regularly, so I was pretty excited about that. Blackfin, yellowfin, it didn’t matter to me as I still had not caught any tuna.

We headed out of Venice later than anticipated due to the late arrival of the other members of our crew; Dustin, Jeremy, and Aaron – essentially the same group we had for Tarpon Rodeo last year. We gave them a hard time about the late start, but it really didn’t matter, we had all night to fish. The weather was beautiful on the ride out, the moon was bright, winds were calm, and the air had a little bit of a chill to it for April. As we got further from the launch though, the wind and waves began to pick up and we knew we would have to deal with the chop all night long.

Our first destination was a rig to try and catch some hardtails for live bait in the morning. Upon arrival there are fish busting the surface all over the place. I started throwing a topwater on heavy spinning tackle and before long I’m hooked up. After a short, but nice, fight I boat the fish and it’s a blackfin tuna. My first tuna, on topwater no less. We all proceed to catch blackfin tuna on jigs and topwater and the trip has already started off right. I broke out the fly rod for a little while, but never got a bite. We could have spent all night at that rig culling blackfin tuna, but we were after swords so we pressed on.

We reached our spot, in at least 1000ft of water, set out of Hydraglow lights and set out 4 lines at varying depths. The lines were baited with squid and glowstick or lights and looked very complicated. I’m out of my element offshore, so don’t expect me to go into great detail about the equipment or anything else for that matter. One thing I know for sure, no electric reels were used, or are ever used on Blake’s boat.  Electric reels are for sissies. End of story.

Anyway, so swordfishing feels a bit like catfishing since you just sit there and watch your line. Things got exciting though when Dustin got a bite at around 1am. Sharks are a common bycatch when fishing for swords, so fingers were crossed that it wasn’t a shark. When it surfaced, it was obvious it wasn’t a shark and that they had finally gotten their first sword. A few tense moments followed, the fish was gaffed and brought in over the gunnels. There was an explosion of cheers and expletives when that fish hit the deck. It was pure, unadulterated joy. Really an awesome experience to behold. The sword was small, not marker size (100+), it would keep though, size was inconsequential. The goal was to catch a swordfish, that goal was reached, we were all happy.

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With renewed vigor we continued to drift for swords. Our drift was very slow though. The wind and the tide were opposed creating a situation in which we were moving at about 0.3 mph. So we weren’t covering a lot of distance. A few hours passed and we decided to run to a different spot and start a drift there. At around 5am I hear a short whine from Aaron’s drag. The drags were set so loose on everyone’s reels that rogue waves would make them sound every once in awhile, so I didn’t think much of it. However, Aaron’s drag hadn’t sounded all night. About a minute later he notices his line is slack. He asked us if we were caught on him and we didn’t think we were so Dustin told him to just start reeling. Aaron reels this slack line all the way to the surface before he realizes he has a fish on. When this thing saw the boat it was on! The fish took off back down and Aaron hammered down the drag, meanwhile to keep it from getting in the prop Blake is maneuvering the boat, once that happens pretty much everyone is tangled in Aaron’s line. I clear my line and get my bait out of the water. The fish surfaces again and we see the size, it’s a sword, much bigger than the last one. Gaffs are sunk into the fish, harpoons were in hand but never deployed. The fish was dragged over the gunnels and again there was a moment of pure joy. The fish wasn’t ready to quit though and started throwing his head around. Blake clubbed him until he quit shaking and another disaster was avoided – those bills are sharp! This was a marker sword and now we had 2 in the boat. It’s as if they knew exactly what they were doing.

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We continued to drift, unsuccessfully, until first light, then we headed to a nearby rig to try our hand on some tuna. Again fish were hitting the surface and again a cast with a topwater yielded a tuna. This time it was a small yellowfin. So small in fact, that I threw it back. It may have kept, but this guy needed to grow up.

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We caught one or two blackfin at that rig as well, but no more yellowfin. Everything was small, so we headed on to another rig. Blake jigged up a nice amberjack then caught a bearded brotula while dropping for grouper. Pretty cool looking fish, like a mix between an eel and a choupique. He said they were just as good to eat as grouper, so it went in the box. I made him take a picture with it at the cleaning table.

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We kept dropping for grouper but couldn’t get into any, just a couple of sharks. So we pulled for some wahoo, had one bite, but lost him after a short fight. Follow up pulls yielded no results. By this time it was late morning and we were worn out so we headed back in.

It was a great trip, we boated 2 swords, multiple blackfin tuna, a small yellowfin, a brotula, and a couple amberjack. I think the guys got validation for all the hard work they have put in on swordfish and that was worth the trip alone. Overnighters wear you out! I got back to Amanda’s parents house (we were spending Easter there) and I was exhausted. I showered, napped, woke up for dinner, then slept for a very long time. Can’t wait to do it again though. I know that they will further refine their swordfish technique and in no time will have it mastered, the way they’ve mastered fishing for grouper, which reminds me, I still need to catch one of those big suckers. I knocked out my tuna this trip, though I left room for improvement. Now I need a grouper, though, and a sword, the list just keeps growing.

Thanks and congrats to Blake and the gang for getting their swords and continually putting me on the offshore fish. These guys are incredible fishermen and it has been a lot of fun fishing with them and learning from them. I always look forward to the next trip on Funny Shoes II.