GRAND ISLE — The three-day run of the 87th annual International Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo proved once again that neither west wind, nor rough seas, nor a power outage can keep south Louisiana anglers from their appointments with catching fish.
And the brave souls who competed for three days in topsy-turvy seas caught fish, lots of fish, big and small fish, ugly fish and pretty fish, red and white fish, silver and golden fish — all to have the power go out across Louisiana’s only inhabited barrier island just when it was time for them to receive the rewards for all their work.
Rodeo President John Georges, The Advocate’s owner and publisher, got to hand out trophies earlier Saturday to the top three finishers in the children’s division, but Louisiana state troopers were busy trying to clear the rodeo’s weighstation shortly after the 6 p.m. weigh-in deadline after a powerful line of thunderstorms swept over Lafourche Parish and the southern tip of Jefferson Parish.
All that didn’t seem to put a damper on the celebration on the final day of the country’s oldest competitive fishing event.
And leading Team BLUMF, the guys who named the team for the black drum they pursue — Big Lipped Ugly Monster Fish — held first place in the celebration contest after Jonathan Babin, of Raceland, brought in the rodeo’s heaviest drum after the last several years of battling a team from Mandeville for bragging rights over this species.
“We’re back,” Lance Babin, Jonathan’s dad, said after spending the past three days on their favorite fishing hole at Oyster Bayou, a spot famous for its super-sized black drum.
“The last couple of years, it looked like Oyster Bayou dried up for black drum. We could catch a lot of redfish there, and we did this year, but we knew the drum would be back, and they were,” Lance Babin said.
Oyster Bayou’s drum stock was back so well that it produced the top two fish in the category, and Lance Babin said the oddity was that the first- and second-place fish were the respective fish caught Thursday and Friday mornings.
Another duel, this one becoming legendary, is for the five-fish redfish stringer category pitting the north shore’s Gus Wilson III and Terrebonne Parish sheriff Jerry Larpenter. It was Larpenter who broke Wilson’s rodeo record last year, but it was Wilson, a tried-and-true redfish tournament angler, who took home the top prize this year.
“I stayed in the (bayou) Dularge area the whole time, and I only got to fish for a few hours Thursday and Friday afternoon ... caught lots of fish, but none had the girth, the body weight to give me a big weight,” Larpenter said after finishing second.
While those dogfights were settled during Saturday’s weigh-in, weighmasters were busy despite the rodeo fleet battling strong west winds and moderately heavy sea conditions.
Saturday’s action rewrote all three places in dolphin, barracuda, croaker, drum, red snapper, bull redfish and sheepshead. Other first-place fish came in blackfin tuna and wahoo, bluewater species that meant those crews spent Thursday or Friday nights, or both, in the Gulf of Mexico more than 80 miles from port. There were only five categories that went unchanged during Saturday’s rush to the scales.
That last group included speckled trout and Raymond Galatas’ 5-pounder that stood atop that category since late Thursday.
One fish that didn’t show up at the scales provided 13-year-old Ross Caillouet with the biggest thrill in his fishing life. The crew aboard the “Miss Ori” was trolling an Islander rigged with a ballyhoo when a blue marlin blasted the bait, and it was Caillouet’s turn on the rod.
“The fish hit almost right at the boat, and it took maybe 15 minutes to get the fish to the leader and release it,” the young angler said. “It’s the first billfish I’ve caught. It was a big thrill.”
Ross’ dad, Scott, estimated the blue marlin weighed 150 pounds.
And if there was an award for determination, Lake St. Catherine veteran Joe Wrubleski could be a name to call.
The Metairie fisherman decided to fish home waters, “... a place I know in my backyard and a place where I’m comfortable,” and try for something that would make the rodeo board.
His sheepshead, a solid 7-pounder, took first place.
While Wrubleski said he had little trouble with the conditions, Wade Fernandez said Thursday and Friday were taxing enough. And when he saw flags standing straight out Saturday morning, he’s just happy to let the red snapper he had caught stand tall. One did: His bright red red snapper took second place.
Brett Candies took home the silver cup for his 165-pound, 14-ounce, first-place tarpon, and Kurt Cheramie earned the First Tarpon Award for the second consecutive year.