GRAND ISLE — There are as many ways to celebrate the three days of the International Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo as there are fishermen who annually enter the country’s oldest continuous saltwater fishing event.
That’s about 1,200 this year.
Despite a spectacular run on tarpon — there were 10 caught over the last three days — and two rodeo records, Joseph Hebert will never forget this year’s IGITR that ended a three-day run Saturday.
He was with his family aboard the “Geaux Deep” in deep water off the Louisiana coast, and it was his 18th birthday when a giant blue marlin blasted a trolled lure.
He brought what was estimated to be a 500 blue next to the boat, and rather than parade the magnificent fish to the scales at the Sand Dollar Marina, he decided to tag then release the bruiser for the opportunity to live another day.
Four other anglers, three aboard the “Juanita Fish,” did the same thing with the bluewater catches and filled, for the first time in years, the Big Game Tag-and-Release category.
And despite Mother Nature’s vagaries, conditions that went from Thursday’s constant passage of rain-filled squall lines to Friday’s constant 15-knot southwest winds, to Saturday’s hot, dry and breezy conditions, fishermen filled the leader board in all but the Blue Marlin category, where the preferred bragging rights was to release fish.
The three days provided the best rodeo tarpon action in five years. There were six brought to the scales, which meant one was bumped from the leader board. That’s the first time that’s happened since 2009.
What’s more, in a desperate rush to take advantage of Saturday’s calming conditions, there was a maddening last two hours to beat the 6 p.m. Saturday weigh-in deadline.
The leader board turned over as many as five times in the final hours of one of the most fish-rich rodeos in 10 years.
Two records fell. The first came when Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter reclaimed the rodeo’s all-time best weight in Redfish Stringer, a five-fish combined weight of 34 pounds, 9 ounces that erased Gary Wilson’s one-year-old mark of 38-1.
The next came from Prairieville’s Daniel Thibodeaux, who hauled a giant 124-8 grouper to the scales to beat the one-year-old, 115-1 record of fishing friend Kevin Hatcher from Donaldsonville. The two, who formed the Salta Kajun Fishing Team, were together around Green Canyon rigs, miles off the Louisiana coast throughout the rodeo’s three days, and breaking his friend’s record showed how good friends celebrate each other’s successes.
It was the third consecutive year to set the rodeo’s grouper record. Baton Rouge’s Glenn Thomas set the record in 2012 with a 99-pounder.
And there could have been another after Lance “Coon” Schouest showed up at Sand Dollar Marina with a long face late Saturday morning.
Schouest piloted old friends Grant Lynch, from Talladega, Alabama, Jerry McEwen, of Memphis, Tennessee, to a memorable tarpon take Friday morning.
“Both fish hit at the same time, and both were jumping at the same time. It was spectacular,” Lynch said.
“It was the most incredible fishing experience in my life.”
But Saturday morning, Schouest reported a fisherman on his boat battled a “giant, rodeo-record tarpon” for more than two hours before the giant silver king dived under the boat and cut the line.
That left Patrick Rodriguez of Galveston, Texas, with the rodeo’s top silver king, a handsome 175-pound, 4-ounce catch that fell far short of the rodeo’s all-time 207-pound record.
In all, 37 names were struck from the leader board during Saturday’s final hours, and as many as six categories were completely rewritten in the rodeo’s final hours.
Included were back-to-back 5-12 speckled trout, one taken west of Grand Isle by Grosse Tete’s Randy Sexton first, then Metairie’s Joe Wrubleski next that left Lafayette’s Wayne St. Pieree in third place after a trip to waters near the mouth of the Mississippi River.
Red snapper, a species put off limits by federal managers in federal waters, were so plentiful in state waters that the category was written and rewritten three times in the rodeo’s final hours.