Darryl Delerno Jr. has entered the New Orleans City Park Big Bass Rodeo for 15 years, and he’s placed second and third in previous tournaments.
On Saturday, in the 69th edition of the rodeo, Delerno finished first.
Delerno landed a 4-pound, 1.3-ounce bass that earned him the coveted Joe Courcelle Award, presented annually to the adult angler who lands the heaviest bass in what is believed to be the oldest freshwater fishing rodeo in the U.S.
He landed the winning fish at about 6:50 a.m. on a white/chartreuse buzzbait in a large pond just north of the New Orleans Museum of Art in City Park. Delerno, who lives in Gretna, said the water clarity was not a problem Saturday, even after steady thunderstorms swamped much of the metro area a day earlier.
“My day was over early,” Delerno said. “The water was nice. I had four hits, and they went about a pound and a half. About five minutes later, I caught the big one. I couldn’t really see any fish, one little gar fish is all. The big bass was maybe in a foot of water. She was just off the bank.”
About 550 individual anglers took part in the Big Bass Rodeo, with 348 of them in the Adult Bass division with Delerno. Also, 98 junior anglers were entered, as were 12 former adult champions, 12 in fly fishing categories and 24 teams in a “Cichlid (Rio Grande Perch) and Bream Trim Event.”
In addition, the Boats on the Bayou category, which allows anglers to fish from non-motorized boats on Bayou St. John, continued to grow. Seventy-four boats were entered in that event this year. Anglers in every other category fished from the banks of City Park’s ponds and lagoons.
Mandeville’s Brennan LeJeune won the Paul Kalman Award for being the angler 12 years or younger to catch the biggest bass of the day. LeJeune’s fish weighed 1.1 pounds.
“I caught him about 6:30 or 7 this morning,” the 12-year-old said. “I was using a spinnerbait (white with a black head and a red spot) … The water was clear. I was casting out and reeling in normally, and it just bit. He gave up a tiny fight.”
Kalman founded the rodeo after World War II. Courcelle was the weighmaster of the Big Bass Rodeo for more than 30 years.
New to this year’s rodeo was the Battle for the Bass competition, which pitted area high school teams against one another. The Bass Busters from Mandeville won the inaugural division.
While anglers were fishing throughout City Park, a free “Fishtival” was taking place near the Casino Building and the weigh-in area. Numerous outdoors agencies were on hand, and there were interactive displays for youngsters, fly-casting demonstrations, numerous vendors, raffles, DJ music, and more highlighting the event.
“We had huge storms all day (Friday), which changed the barometric pressure,” rodeo director Kaye Florane said. “The fishing slowed down some today. But still, this was a great event, and it was very well attended. We couldn’t be happier.”