The action provided by the annual Golden Meadow-Fourchon Tarpon Rodeo answered some questions about how Louisiana’s part of the Gulf of Mexico survived nearly a year after the disastrous BP-Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Good, in some cases very good, but with lots of lingering doubts.
“We know what we’re catching and we’re catching lots of fish,” 25-year-veteran charter skipper Steve Tomeny said. “What we don’t know is what we’ll see the next year and the next. We just don’t know how the oil affected last year’s spawn.”
For now, the extant dogfight between Baton Rouge bluewater fishermen Brent Bankston on his “Blue Line” and the Tenacious crew of Kevin Higgins, Rennie Carter and Daniel Landry produced a rodeo headline, one that they had to share with Baton Rouge’s Ray Manguno and his new-found fishing buddies Mike and Mark Dufrene from Golden Meadow.
Manguno and the father-son Dufrenes brought in 120-pound-plus tarpon to add luster to the 63rd annual GMFTR.
Theirs was the first tarpon to hit the rodeo’s leaderboard in seven years.
A new-to-rodeo bystander questioned why a rodeo would have “tarpon” in the title when only two have been weighed in since 2003.
It’s a simple answer: In the past 30 years, tarpon usually don’t show up along the Louisiana coast, notably in the West Delta blocks off the mouth of the Mississippi River, until the middle of July and usually just in time for the end-of-July Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo.
Manguno said they were “blind casting” to the tarpon - “We knew they were there,” Mike Dufrene said - and that they were using the tried-and-true Coon Pops, an artificial lure designed by legendary south Louisiana tarpon catcher “Coon” Schouest.
As big as the tarpon were, and as much attention as they attracted around Moran’s Marina weighstation, the silver kings took second place to the 323-pound blue marlin Bankston and his Blue Line crew hefted over the stern to the tripod scale manned by weighmaster Marty Bourgeois.
“We really didn’t want to kill this fish,” Bankston said, turning the floor over to Monique Savoy for the rest of the story of her one-hour battle with the billfish.
“It hit a blue and white Islander in the middle of the (trolling) spread and for 15 minutes we didn’t know what it was,” she said. “Then it jumped once and we knew (what it was) and it jumped three times and I got the fish almost to the board where they could grab the leader, but the fish sounded.”
Sounding means the big blue dived to the depths - Bankston estimated about 500 feet deep - but Savoy began the low, sometime painful grind to get the fish back to the surface only to have the fish dive again.
“The second time it sounded liked it got tail-wrapped,” she said.
Eric Newman explained what tail-wrapped means.
“When a fish gets the leader wrapped around its tail, it literally drowns itself,” he said. “There’s negative flow across its gills and that shuts off oxygen, but sometimes you don’t know that’s happened.”
Savoy said the crew held the fish alongside Bankston’s boat for several minutes but couldn’t revive it, then brought it aboard.
Newman said he saved the head for state biologists to do age and growth studies on the blue marlin.
While Savoy’s catch earned Bankston the rodeo’s Captain’s Award - the marlin’s bulk broke the leaderboard tie between the Blue Line and Tenacious - the two teams regarded the GMFTR as a “push” and will continue their head-to-head tussle for bluewater bragging rights at the Grand Isle Rodeo.
Both Bankston and Higgins said their offshore expeditions produced enough catch to fill the fish lockers on their boats.
“We had a great time. Brent got into the yellowfins (tuna), and we had a great time on wahoo and bull dolphin,” Higgins said. “It was a great trip.”
Recognized big-speckled trout catcher Terry St. Cyr returned from the mouth of the Mississippi River puzzled about the lack of action on his main target.
“Where are the trout?” he asked making more of a statement than launching an inquiry.
“We just didn’t see any, and I wonder if all that’s happened has moved them. Maybe the trout just don’t want to be there,” St. Cyr said after spending two days with friend Tony Bruce patrolling what was, just two years ago, spots that produced heavyweight specks.
He said he and Bruce caught three trout in two days - he weighed in a 5-pound, 7-ounce speck for the rodeo’s top spot and a 4-7 third-place fish - added a leaderboard-heavy flounder and third-place bull redfish to take the Outstanding Inshore Division’s Fisherman Award.
“Man, I hope this is a temporary thing. I know we’re not seeing large (baitsize) croaker either,” St. Cyr said. “I hope we haven’t lost those big trout forever.”
Tigers seek title
LSU Bass Club team members Doug McClung and Travis Laurent are in Little Rock, Ark., today for the first round of the College B.A.S.S. National Championship.
McClung and Laurent qualified 18th in the near 40-team field. Louisiana-Lafayette (No. 15 qualifier), Louisiana-Monroe (16), Louisiana Tech (17), LSU-Shreveport (19), Northwestern State (24) and Southeastern Louisiana (29) are also in the field along with teams from seven other SEC schools.
Teams will compete the first two days, through Friday, for one of five spots in Saturday’s finals. Sunday, the championship team will vie against each other for a spot in next February’s Bassmaster Classic set for the Red River out of Shreveport.
All events be streamed live on http://www.bassmaster.com.
The final four
The top eight qualifiers for the Bassmaster Elite’s Toyota Trucks All-Star Week are the top eight finishers in the Angler of the Year standings.
Bass fishing fans have until Sunday to vote for the four other pro anglers they want to see finish out the 12-man field.
All-Star Week runs July 23-31 and has two events for the $100,000 winner-take-all purse.
Voters will select one angler from four regions, including one region - Region 3 - with Louisiana’s four national touring pros. You can vote online: http://www.bassmaster.com.