Lance Schouest acted like his hair was on fire.
Weighing in a tarpon the first morning of the three-day Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo in July, Schouest — OK, so everybody around calls him “Coon” — stopped only long enough to have photos taken and give a one-minute interview about his catch.
His parting words that morning went something like this: “There’s a state-record fish out there, and I want to go catch it.”
What Coon didn’t know — how could he? — was that it would take darned near three months to latch onto that giant silver king, and that he would witness the catch from his boat, but not on his boat.
Thursday afternoon, after hours spent earlier that day, hooking eight tarpon and getting four to the boat, Coon and his brother, Joe, were summoned from an afternoon siesta by a phone call from tarpon-chasing friends David Prevost and Jeff DeBlieux.
“We’re on ’em,” DeBlieux said. “Really on ’em.”
Late afternoon action was the first in weeks. Tarpon, 6-8 miles south of Grand Bayou, southeast of Grand Isle, had established a morning-time-only feeding pattern through the past 10 weeks.
The phone call was all it took to get Coon and Joe quick to their boat at Sand Dollar Marina, and they made it to this long-established tarpon feeding area with enough time to hook up on nine more tarpon and get five to the boat.
But on a day when action gave Schouest 68 hooked-up and boated tarpon for the year, Prevost and DeBlieux were battling a once-in-a-lifetime fish.
“We had 15 strikes during the day, and we caught eight,” Prevost said, saving the best story for their last fish in what turned out to be an extraordinarily memorable day for him and state fisheries, even more so than the minutes when Prevost and DeBlieux had three tarpon on at one time.
“A shark broke one of the tarpon off — the shark cut the line — and the one I had on was a big fish. I really didn’t know how big he was until he rolled about three or four feet underwater near the boat.”
The near 40-minute battle — the tarpon fell to Schouest’s now-famous Coon Pop lure, orange head and chartreuse trailer — produced what Prevost said was three, maybe four heart-stopping jumps before Prevost reeled the tarpon to the side of the boat.
“That’s when I told Jeff to get a tape measure, and a snap gaff in his mouth,” Prevost said. “When we measured a 46-inch girth, that’s when I said we can put this one in the boat and run to the scale.”
There’s not a lot of activity around Grand Isle on a midweek day in the middle of October, but when Prevost and DeBlieux docked Prevost’s 32-foot Contender at Sand Dollar Marina, the east end of the island came alive.
A set of scales was produced from a locker at Sand Dollar, the same set that has weighed so many tarpon for the Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo, and when the team made their first pulls to hoist the giant silver king to its full weight, Prevost knew he had struck the mother lode.
“I thought the fish was in the high 220s, but didn’t think it’d be 246 pounds. I had one in the 220 (-pound) range last year and let it go, but this one was a fish I wanted to get mounted,” Prevost said.
A state fisheries biologist working at the Grand Isle lab showed up to certify the potential state-record catch.
“Jeff and I have been friends, and Coon is a great friend for a long time,” Prevost said. “And being with friends made the day that much better.”