Children and adults have headed to New Orleans City Park to participate in the Big Bass Rodeo since Harry Truman was president.
They’ll do so again for the 70th year when the City Park Big Bass Rodeo and Fishtival is held Saturday. About 600 anglers, some young and some not so young, will compete in the event that is believed to be the oldest freshwater fishing tournament in the U.S.
Some things have changed with the rodeo since it was first organized in 1946 by local newspaperman and World War II veteran Paul Kalman. But the end result is the same — catch some big fish, win some neat prizes, and raise awareness for one of southeast Louisiana’s hidden fishing treasures.
The biggest change this year is that longtime rodeo director Kaye Florane has stepped down from the position she held for 14 years. Natalie Weiss, the special events director at New Orleans City Park, has taken the reins and is ably assisted by Danica Williams of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Both have played critical roles in the previous few Big Bass Rodeos, but this year, the job is all theirs.
“Kaye left me ‘The Bible,' which is a binder filled with anything having to do with the rodeo from way back when until the day she stepped down as director,” Weiss said. “If I have any questions, all I have to do is consult the bible. Or I can call Kaye. She hasn’t gone too far.”
Florane provided some background assistance preparing this rodeo. But instead of handling all the small details of the 2017 fishing tournament, she’ll instead try to hook some hefty bass as a competitor in the Boats on the Bayou division of the rodeo. Florane was instrumental in bringing that element to the Big Bass Rodeo, which features anglers in kayaks, canoes, or other non-motorized vehicles fishing on Bayou St. John. In fact, the winner of that competition will win a new award named for Florane.
“It’s possible that Kaye Florane could win the first Kaye Florane Boats on the Bayou Big Bass Award,” Weiss said with a laugh. “Wouldn’t that be funny?”
The largest contingent of anglers will fish from the banks in the Big Bass Rodeo. Awards are given to the top three anglers in several categories. They include bass (spinning, spincasting, or baitcasting) in junior (12 and under) and adult (13 and older) age brackets, as well as a Champions Challenge division which is only open to former winners in any bass division. There’s also a cichlid (Rio Grande Perch), bream, and perch category for junior anglers as well as teams of as many as five anglers. There’s a fly-fishing division for bass or cichlid, and the person who catches the heaviest gar or catfish also will win an award.
The “Battle of the Bass” division returns, and will pit student anglers in seventh-12th grade in a bank fishing competition. As many as five students per team can compete together and weigh their heaviest two bass. On-site registration costs $10 and will take place from 6-8 a.m. on March 25.
The free “Fishtival” also has been a popular draw in recent years. Various information and vendor booths will be set up outside the City Park Casino Building from 9 a.m. until noon. There will be a casting content, casting lessons, hands-on exhibits, a mobile tank trailer featuring aquatic animals provided by the LDWF, wildlife displays, raffles, prizes, a Wish to Fish tent with new and use tackle for sale, DJ music, and more.
Big Bass Rodeo entry fee is $10 for adults (13 and older) and $5 for youths. Registration will be held from 6-8 a.m. and fishing hours are from 6:30-11 a.m. The awards ceremony will follow soon thereafter, and includes the Paul Kalman Award for the youth angler with the heaviest bass, as well as the Joe Courcelle Award which is presented to the angler 13 or older who lands the heaviest bass. Courcelle was the long-time weighmaster of the rodeo.
Darryl Delerno Jr. caught a 4-pound, 1.3-ounce bass to win the Courcelle Award last year. The City Park record bass was caught in 2013 (not during the rodeo) and weighed 9.06 pounds.
This year’s weighmaster is longtime volunteer Aaron Gelfand, and John Kinabrew will man the weigh station for Boats on the Bayou, which will be located where Filmore Ave. meets Bayou St. John. C.T. Williams will once again be the Big Bass Rodeo emcee.
For more information, go online to http://neworleanscitypark.com/big-bass-fishing-rodeo-and-fishtival.