NEW ORLEANS Joseph Royes III has fished the New Orleans City Park Big Bass Rodeo since he was 5 years old.

But the 20-year-old Metairie resident had never caught a bass as big as the one he hooked Saturday during the 68th annual tournament.

Royes landed a 5.38-pound largemouth fishing near Scout Island at about 9 a.m. He used a 7½-inch green plastic worm with a blue tail to catch the bass.

“She was in about 2½ feet of water,” Royes said. “The water was really clear, and I could see her on a bed. I dropped the worm maybe 100 times before she finally bit.”

The prized fish earned Royes the Joe Courcelle Award, which goes each year to the angler that catches the rodeo’s largest bass. For more than 30 years, Courcelle was the weighmaster for the Big Bass Rodeo and the award is named in his memory.

The Big Bass Rodeo is believed to be the oldest freshwater fishing tournament in the U.S. Royes said winning top honors in the esteemed event is special because of that history, not to mention the many times he’s competed in the rodeo.

“Figuring out how the bass are moving in here is something I’ve tried to do for a long time,” he said. “This is really exciting. I had no idea I would even get close to winning.”

About 500 individual anglers competed in the Big Bass Rodeo this year. They were greeted by bluebird skies, a gentle breeze, and temperatures in the mid-60s. Of that number, 350 entered the Adult bass spinning, spin-casting, and bait-casting category, and 39 competed in the Junior Angler Division. Nineteen others tried their hand at fly fishing for bass, and 14 previous Big Bass Rodeo winners entered a “Champions Challenge.”

Twelve teams entered a “Chichlid and Bream Trim” event in which squads vied to catch up to the 15 heaviest fish of those species.

In addition, the “Boats on the Bayou” category, now in its second year, attracted 56 anglers who used nonmotorized vehicles to fish in Bayou St. John adjacent to City Park.

Competitors in other categories were required to fish from the banks of City Park’s ponds and lagoons, waters which have seen a tremendous rebirth in the years since the park was flooded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

A “fishtival” complete with informational booths, fly tying demonstrations, a “touch tank,” casting competition and raffles was set up around the weigh station just outside City Park’s Casino Building.

The Paul Kalman Award, presented to the angler 12 or younger catching the heaviest bass, went to Nicholas Heintz for his 1.38-pounder he caught Saturday morning. Kalman founded the City Park Big Bass Rodeo in 1946.

“The fishtival is free and that attracts a lot of people, especially kids,” rodeo director Kaye Florane said. “Plus there are just tremendous raffles, with baskets of goods worth more than $500, close to $1,000. But the rodeo itself is something people of all ages look forward to, and everyone has a chance to win an award.

“It’s a nonprofessional tournament, it’s a tradition, and it’s a community event for every skill group.”

Proceeds from rodeo registration benefit City Park and its fisheries. The event is presented by the park and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Additional information can be found online at www.bigbassfishingrodeo.com or by checking the event page on Facebook.