GRAND ISLE - For a veteran tarpon hunter like “Coon” Schouest, Thursday’s first day of the 89th annual Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo was about as frustrating a rodeo day as he can remember.
It was only because he saw what was swimming and biting and battling off Louisiana’s coast Wednesday.
“Tarpon were everywhere. We caught one that was 160 (pounds), followed that one with a 180 (pounder) and had one on I know weighed 200. It was a great day,” Schouest said.
“Then, today (Thursday), nothing. Nothing,” he moaned. “But, we’ll be back at it tomorrow.”
Late Thursday, the National Weather Service upgraded the effects of Tropical Storm Don along the Louisiana coast to a small-craft advisory with 6-8 foot seas 20 miles off the coast into Friday morning.
Even though wind and waves were building throughout the rodeo’s first day, there was enough of a window for Patrick Cenac to latch onto and catch a tarpon. He caught it so early that he and his Houma buddies were back at the Sand Dollar Marina waiting for rodeo weighmasters to open the scales. Cenac’s 99-pound, 5-ounce silver king was the first fish hefted to the scales.
The Cut Off duo of Davie Breaux and David Richoux were far offshore - near the Brutus floating platform - when Cenac was battling the tarpon.
“There were (yellowfin) tuna jumping everywhere, but we just couldn’t get them to bite,” Breaux said. “We found (bull) dolphin and some blackfins (tuna) and some rainbow runners. We caught good fish to eat, but that’s when we knew we had to start back. We knew the weather was going to get rough and it did. At least we had those first couple of hours.”
Other dyed-in-the-wool rodeo fishermen weren’t so fortunate.
St. Francisville veteran Cary Ward put a bull redfish on the board and said he was lucky to do that.
“We didn’t go far. We couldn’t,” Ward said. “It was very choppy and we had kids on the boat. We just didn’t stay long. Maybe better days are ahead. It looks like the weather is supposed to get better late Friday into Saturday.”
Dedicated Baton Rouge rodeo angler Bennett Singletary and his group were on a solid speckled trout bite in Barataria Bay early. That’s where Diette Massey boated a 3-pound, 14-ounce speck that held the No. 2 spot on the leaderboard.
“I used a big shrimp, a really big shrimp to catch that fish,” she said. “We caught maybe five trout apiece before the tide stopped (around 9:30 a.m.) and that’s when we decided to head offshore to look for mangrove snapper.”
Once offshore, Masssey and others on the boat agreed to what happened next: Using pogeys, they latched onto solid mangrove snapper, but Singletary said it didn’t last long.
“Maybe 20 minutes there, then it got really rough, that’s all 20 minutes,” Singletary said. “We left and came in. The day was over early.”
With two days left in the rodeo and much improved conditions ahead Saturday, most first-day entries aren’t locks for Saturday night’s awards ceremony.
Scales at the Sand Dollar Marina are scheduled to be opened from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday, then from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday.