GRAND ISLE — It took a well-known boat in the south Louisiana tarpon fleet to cast a ray of sunshine Thursday on an otherwise stormy first day of the 2014 International Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo.
And the Rock-n-Roll did it for the second year in a row.
Kurt Cheramie, aboard the Rock-n-Roll, the boat owned by brothers John and Jeff DeBlieux from Houma, brought in the rodeo’s namesake fish, a 99-pound, 6-ounce tarpon, in the late afternoon to put a fish atop the leaderboard in the three-day annual event that stands as the county’s oldest competitive fishing event.
Thursday’s story began on the first day of the 2013 rodeo when Corey Cheramie, Kurt’s son, brought in the rodeo’s only tarpon, a 102-pounder.
“I was fishing in the front of the boat last year and had a fish hit then gave the rod to Corey and he won,” Kurt Cheramie said. “This time Corey had a fish hit him while he was casting and he gave the fish to me.”
Jeff DeBlieux said the fish jumped 10 times during the 15-minute battle. The fish came to the boat at 3:15 p.m. and the Rock-n-Roll crew fired up the engine and made a mad dash back to the Sand Dollar Marina weighstation to take the prestigious “first tarpon” trophy.
The elder Cheramie said he’s caught much larger tarpon with the DeBlieux brothers in the past — one that went 180 pounds — and said he expects the 20 or more boats working waters surrounding the mouth of the Mississippi River to come in with much heavier silver kings.
“It’s still a lot of fun to catch this fish,” Cheramie said. “We don’t think it will hold up, but you never know.”
His tarpon came through its first challenge about an hour later when the Rock-n-Roll enthusiasm was matched by Thibodaux’s Travis Landry, who said he has fished for tarpon each day of the rodeo for the past three years without success.
But Thursday, success was measured by his broad grin. Landry’s first tarpon weighed 87-14 and was second on the leaderboard.
“I’m ready to go back,” Landry said. “I have the (tarpon) fever now.”
Both fishermen readily admitted catching their prized fish on Coon Pops, a bait made famous across the country by south Louisiana tarpon veteran “Coon” Schouest.
And both said they braved a period of rough seas and rain that came from no fewer than four squall lines that swept over the state’s Central Coast.
Calmer conditions are expected for the rodeo’s final two days.
A third tarpon was taken Thursday by Hunter Tieken, but the crew of the boat “Code 7” tagged and released the fish.
Despite heavy rains that swept the island and surrounding waters throughout the day, there were entries in all but seven of 29 categories.
The next heaviest fish on the leaderboard belonged to Donaldsonville’s Kenny Acosta, a 50-4 cobia; Newell Normand with a 32-8 redfish; and, young DeQuincy angler Brandon Deshotel with a solid 78-4 yellowfin tuna.
Most anglers, the tarpon catchers included, said they battled unwanted species throughout the day.
Cade Fortenberry, the teenaged son of rodeo speckled trout catcher Gilbert Fortenberry from Gonzales, spent most of Wednesday catching live croaker to go after specks. The teenager managed a trout large enough to hold first place, but “Papa” Gilbert said they were plagued by sharks and bluefish that kept stealing their prized croakers.
They were fishing shallow-water oil and gas platforms off The Fourchon beach.
“The bluefish were stealing everything we had,” Gilbert Fortenberry said. “We’re coming back out tomorrow (Friday) with more croakers, but this time we’re going to run to the east. There were two big trout that came from the Empire jetties last week and we’re going to give them a try over there.”
Joel Massey and his Baton Rouge crew had the same problems with sharks and bluefish but managed to catch mangrove and red snapper at shallow rigs in the Sandy Point area, a location about halfway between Grand Isle and the mouth of the Mississippi, and had several fish on the leaderboard.
“We managed to catch small snapper in the 31 and 34 blocks, and we decided to weigh them,” Massey said. “It was rough for periods of time today, but we’re going back.”
Advocate publisher John Georges, who is this year’s Admiral of the Fleet, said that attitude explains this rodeo’s longevity.
Georges said he planned to be on the water Friday morning no matter the conditions.