Tim Zissis has a lot of history in the New Orleans City Park Big Bass Rodeo.
The 48-year-old Lakeview resident began fishing in the popular tournament when he was in grade school, and he and his dad, George, spent numerous additional days searching for bucket-mouth bass in the park’s lagoons throughout the years. In 2012, Zissis landed a 9-pound, .05-ounce lunker to set a City Park record that stood until earlier this year.
But one thing Zissis had never done was catch the biggest bass in the Big Bass Rodeo. That changed Saturday during the 70th annual edition of the event, which attracted approximately 500 anglers to compete in what is believed to be the oldest freshwater fishing tournament in the country.
Zissis landed a 5.31-pound bass to win the Joe Courcelle Award, presented to the adult angler who catches the largest bass. He caught the bass on a blue/black jig under the bridge on Harrison Avenue closest to Wisner Boulevard. The catch came at 6:35 a.m., and that was only his second cast of the day.
“The jig fell, and I felt a little tap,” Zissis said. “I saw the line move to the left, and I set the hook. She jumped about four times, and in about 30 seconds, I brought her in.”
A 5-pounder usually is good enough to win the Courcelle award, but Zissis knows bigger bass swim in the City Park system. The 9.05-pounder he caught five years ago had local anglers buzzing for months — just like the record catch of 9.1 pounds by Lafittte’s Anthony Mike this February sent tongues wagging.
“Since they stocked it with Florida strain bass, you never know,” Zissis said. “The time of bass records lasting for 45 years I think is over with. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries does such a great job with stocking it. What a great place to fish.”
Zissis said fishing the rodeo is special for him and that it’s hard to decide which is greater — previously holding the park’s big bass record or finally winning the fishery’s marquee event.
“Both are completely awesome,” he said. “It brings back memories of my father. He died when I was 16. So it’s incredible, and I’m honored to be here to be able to compete in this, to have my health and to have fun doing something I love.”
Metairie’s Garrison Schilling won the Paul Kalman Award, which is named for the rodeo’s founder and is given to the angler 12 years old or younger who catches the heaviest bass. The 6-year-old hooked a bass that weighed 1.90 pounds, and he caught the fish on a lizard while fishing in the Scout Island area with his dad, Kevin.
The elder Schilling also has a history in the Big Bass Rodeo. His 9-pounder broke the park’s 45-year-old bass record on Mardi Gras in 2012, only to have Zissis come along in August 2012 to edge the mark. Mike edged that standard higher six weeks ago with his 9.1-pound catch near Scout Island.
Last year’s champion, Darryl Delerno Jr., won the Champions’ Challenge reserved for previous Courcelle Award winners. His catch of 3.22 pounds was the heaviest in the category.
Raye Christenson won the inaugural Kaye Florane Award for the heaviest bass in the Boats on the Bayou division. Christensen hooked a 5.11-pund bass to lead the boaters on Bayou St. John.
Mandeville High School’s Bass Busters won the Battle of the Bass high school team challenge. The team's two heaviest bass weighed 5.30 pounds, earning it the title for the second consecutive year.
Bass (adult): First, Tim Zissis, 5.31; second, Mike Laviolette, 4.44; third, Stan Smith, 3.21.
Bass (junior): First Garrison Schilling, 1.90; second, C.J. Magee, 1.75; third, Sam Tamberealla, 1.66.
Cichlid and Bream Trim: First, Josh Maclusa, 6.14; second, Team Camo, 5.82; third, Team Henderson 3.77.
Fly fishing (bass): Justin Barnewald.
Fly fishing (cichlid): Josh Mercadal.
Champions’ Challenge: Darryl Delerno Jr., 3.22.
Boats on the Bayou (Trash Bash): First, Ty Hibbs, 0.36; second, Frank Toro, 0.19.
Boats on the Bayou (Redfish): Michael Misshore, 6.39.
Boats on the Bayou (Bass): First, Raye Christensen, 5.11; second, Joseph Rigsby, 4.55; third, Megan Alfred, 1.03.
Battle for the Bass: 1, Mandeville High Bass Busters, 5.30; 2, Brother Martin No. 7, 3.77; 3, Brother Martin No. 9, 3.33.