If there’s one thing about Louisiana bass fishermen that stands out above their passion for catching largemouths, it’s their belief in understanding the need to help others.
Nobody in south Louisiana knows that better than Ryan Lavigne, Moonie Bergeron and Blain Delapasse.
All have full-time jobs. So do the men and women who help them put on bass tournaments, purposeful late-winter and springtime gatherings, all with different targets.
Lavigne and his posse use the annual early February Fishing for Tucker tournament to raise money for a family with a son battling a rare disease.
Bergeron and his dedicated band are years into the annual Anglers Against Autism tournament. It’s set March 4 for Doiron’s in Stephensville.
And, Delapasse and volunteer friends in Louisiana Friends against Childhood Cancer are going into a second year of resurrecting what once was a well-attended tournament benefiting St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.
Fishing for Tucker drew 60 two-angler teams to Doiron’s Landing in Stephensville earlier this month. That’s not a giant number, but one Lavigne said showed him enough to keep him working on next year’s event.
“The moon phase could have been better, and all the north wind blew a lot of water out, and some areas were swollen by rains, so a lot of fish pulled out and that didn’t set up for a big catch," Delapasse said.
That combination of poor conditions tends to keep bass fishermen at home, and Fishing for Tucker’s winning weight, a little more than 13 pounds for a five-bass catch, proved those negatives true.
But, that’s not the story here. What is, Lavigne said, is the turnout.
“Our participation has fluctuated over the years,” he said. “I was pleased to have 60 boats because there was a big high school (bass) tournament up the road and lots of dads were in the boats with the young anglers.
“We were fortunate to have a sponsor who gave an extra $1,000 for first place. We knew guys like to win money, but year after year after year we’ve come to know the majority of fishermen show up for the cause. Fishermen show up for Tucker, and south Louisiana guys are very generous in that respect. That’s what keeps me coming back every year.”
In most cases the prize money for these tournaments, even for the winners, is only enough to pay for gas for a few more fishing trips and not much more.
Anglers Against Autism
In the Anglers Against Autism tournament, sponsorship means there’s a $5,000 guarantee for the winning team.
For Bergeron and his crew, the impetus began with his family, then a shifting priority in the needs when younger folks grow into adults dealing with developmental difficulties and how their families are affected.
In the beginning, the thousands raised went to what is now the Emerge Center, and AAA continues to fund two Emerge scholarships.
For the past couple of years, Bergeron and others found there was a vacuum, and a new plan grew from their efforts.
“The problem was after Emerge Center, after high school age, what do these young people do? Sit on the couch and do nothing?” Bergeron said. “We looked into programs at Port City (Enterprises) and what we could do to expand those programs.”
Already at Port city were activities like making ornaments and refinishing furniture, but Bergeron said he knew there could be more. Today, a new bakery is turning out 12,000 rolls each week.
That “more” was getting local government to pony up funds for West Baton Rouge Parish’s Port City, money used to build a bakery and expand the role of the adults in the program.
“You know we can’t solve our world’s problem, but with this local government, we can help, and it helps,” Bergeron said, explaining the bass-fishing fundraiser will help the bakery add more equipment and expand the opportunities for those whom Port City serves.
This year-after-year dedication has helped bring awareness of the ever-growing effects autism has on families now that autism, in various degrees, is being discovered in more and more children.
“I think the fishermen understand the need,” Keith Thibodaux said.
Thibodaux has been Bergeron’s right-hand man since the tournament’s inception in 2011. He said he can’t wait for this first-Saturday-in-March event.
“No matter the conditions, and the conditions are not favorable right now — the Atchafalaya Spillway is high and the changing water levels on the Verret side — the anglers still show up and contribute,” Thibodaux said. “They’re the most giving people I know. They’re a great group of guys.”
Earlier AAA events had gumbo and jambalaya cooking contests, and gumbo cook-off returns this year. It’s set for Sunday, Feb. 26 at the Community Center in Port Allen. Visitors will be able to buy wristbands to allow tasting from all the gumbo “chefs,” and vote on the winning dish — again to benefit Port City, which serves the developmentally disabled in Iberville and Pointe Coupee parishes, too.
Like hundreds of Louisiana families, Delapasse’s family has seen the miracles St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital works.
Years ago, Charles Williams did, too, in his family. He spent countless hours making a bass tournament that raised tens of thousands of dollars for the Memphis, Tennessee, research facility.
Williams died last year, a handful of years after the tournament outgrew the launch capacity along the Diversion Canal, its home base.
Delapasse and the men and women in the Louisiana Friends against Childhood Cancer decided to put the event back on the calendar.
This year’s date is April 29 from Canal Bank on the Diversion.
“Years ago I was parking trucks and trailers and cars for this tournament, anything to help Mr. Charles,” Delapasse said. “It was time to bring it back. (COVID-19) delayed that by two years.”
Then, last year, it happened, but with 25 boats: “It was tough fishing after Hurricane Ida, but it got us started. We (Louisiana Friends) continued to have our boat parade last week and our garfish rodeo, all to benefit St. Jude, and we had an auction last week and raised $125,000,” he said.
This year’s tournament isn’t likely to pack that kind of financial punch. Delapasse said the launch will limit the field to 100 boats with the weigh-in set for Manny’s on La. 22 in Maurepas. The entry fee is $250. Plans are to offer $2,000 to the winners with the big-bass purse making up 5% of the overall purse. Half of the entry fees go to St. Jude’s. The fishing area is restricted to waters north of The Causeway bridge.
Delapasse said plans are to offer an incentive for 20 boats to pay an extra fee to launch at nearby Hilltop, and to add a fishing for kids event. Fishermen will be asked to attend a captain’s meeting Tuesday at Hilltop to draw boat numbers and learn tournament rules.
“We all know what St. Jude’s has done for so many families in our communities,” Delapasse said. “I know fishermen who know that, too. That’s why Mr. Charles’ tournaments were so sucessful. We’re trying to do the same.”
The “Friends” website: lfaccgroup.com.
Can’t forget the annual Kiwanis of Pointe Coupee Bass tournament set March 19 from Morrison Parkway in New Roads.
It’s the 43rd annual and it brings the best False River bassin’ folks to this oxbow lake. Weigh-in is set for 3 p.m with an early entry of $175 ($200 tournament day). This tournament produces the heaviest bass around, and there’s lots of door prizes.
Proceeds go directly back to Kiwanis’ effort to improve buoy markers on the river. Call Kenneth St. Romain at (225) 718-1319 for details.
Then, March 25, comes the morning-long 74th annual Big Bass Fishing Rodeo in New Orleans’ City Park. It’s the oldest continuous freshwater fishing contest in our country on Saturday.
Family oriented, this rodeo’s feature is competition for the heaviest bass — catch-and-release, please — in the park’s lagoons. Recent additions are contests pitting school teams composed of students grades 7-12, the kayakers-only (nonmotorized) Boats on the Bayou restricted to Bayou St. John, and the “Fishtival” with music, educational exhibits and kids-only, hands-on activities at the park’s Casino.
And, there’s more to come: benefit saltwater rodeos arrive in late spring and summer.