When it is as hot as it was, and still is, across south Louisiana, it’s hard to imagine there is something hotter.
OK, so the thermometer hit 99 degrees Saturday afternoon on the shell parking area at Moran’s Marina in Fourchon — thank goodness there was a breeze, as hot as it was — but the fishing was hotter.
So how hot was the fishing?
Every category in Golden Meadow-Fourchon Tarpon Rodeo’s 71st edition was filled, except “flounder” in the Children’s Division.
“It’s a testimony to the kind of fishermen we have here. All Lafourche Parish turned out, and it turned out to be an awesome rodeo year,” rodeo president Dr. Bo Grafton said after weighing in a day’s offshore catch.
Grafton’s name, and his children’s names, showed up on the final leaderboard.
"Even better is this rodeo is all about family, taking kids out for a fun day of catching fish. The tarpon showing up was a bonus," Grafton said.
But there was more, much more.
It’s rare when tarpon move into Louisiana’s coastal waters this early in the year.
Usually it’s about the middle of July, approaching time for the late-July Grand isle Tarpon Rodeo, when these hard-fighting silver giants show up west of the Mississippi River Delta and in shallower water off Grand Bayou.
If one man is going to find them, it’s “Coon” Schouest. He's legendary in these parts — he designed the highly productive tarpon lure, the “Coon Pop” — and he was on the tarpon. Schouest boated the rodeo’s top two entries with his charter for Friday’s second rodeo day, and the near 150-pounder only sets the stage for what’s to come later this summer for the tarpon chasers from Houma, Lafayette, New Orleans, and the usual invasion from coastal Texas.
Schouest reported a layer of middy river water maybe 6-12 inches thick covered the area, but clean water lay underneath that layer, and the tarpon were there feeding on the millions of glass minnows schooling and swimming under the murky layer.
There were mullet in the areas, too, and that’s prime tarpon food, but it appeared the tarpon were there for a glass minnows feast.
Schouest’s catches didn’t tell the whole story: the veteran Capital City area fishing couple, “Spooky” and Stephanie Chenier were doing their usual rodeo adventures, things like chasing red snapper, king mackerel (the rodeo’s No. 1 king came from their boat), cobia and red snapper.
“OK, we were fishing for mangroves (snapper) and we caught four tarpon, maybe the biggest was about 40 pounds,” Spooky said. “We were in South Timbalier (blocks) and the tarpon hit live cocahoe minnows. It was fun, great, and it’s the first time we’ve ever seen tarpon that far west. Yes, we were surprised.”
Troy Donaldson and his Git ’em dive club team showed up with lots of fish. So did a new New Orleans area-based club, The Rigulators.
Git ’em has dominated the Spearfishing Division for years, and met their match over the Fourth of July holiday. The Rigulators totaled 24 points (it’s three points for a first place, two for a second and one for a third place) and walked away with the Team Champion’s award.
Yet, Donaldson provided the info about red snapper.
“They’re everywhere,” the Baton Rouge scuba diver said. “We dove in shallower water, about 120 feet, Thursday and the 15-pound snapper were stacked up.
“Friday we went deep in the Ship Shoal area and saw the strangest thing, a cobia down 150 feet and it was coming up from 200 feet down,” he said. “You see cobia near the surface, and the one we took came when we were coming to the surface.”
Donaldson said most areas they covered during the rodeo’s three-day run had, as expected with the unusual volume of river water, a layer of murky water.
“Once we got down about 15 feet, the water was beautiful can clear,” he said. “And we saw a lot of people catching fish.”
It was clear offshore anglers were ready to take advantage of the second four-day recreational red snapper season afforded by Thursday’s Fourth of July holiday and its run through Sunday.
After talking with as many as 20 crews returning from the rigs and reefs for Saturday’s final rodeo-day weigh-in, the red snapper population is healthy and eager to take most any offering.
At 19 pounds, 12 ounces, the heaviest red snapper were taken by the divers. Cut Off’s Monica Gisclair had the top rod-and-reel snapper, a 19-7.
Mike Melancon’s crew spent most of three days to the west of Port Fourchon, venturing as far west as Garden Banks, and said they tried to pass on red snapper until they reached deep water.
“The seas were flat,” Melancon said, “and running that far was easy. We just had to go slow … we left Wednesday evening to be fishing by Thursday morning … just to save fuel, and there were fish everywhere we stopped.
“And the (red) snapper were thick everywhere we went.”
While it was clear, all 20 crews said, it was easy to catch the two-per-angler daily limit on red snapper.
What won’t be clear for a few days is what all this activity had on the length of the recreational red snapper season.
The latest LA Creel data coming from the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is anglers have taken 38 percent of Louisiana’s 816,439-pound recreational allocation for 2019.
That translates into 304,555 pounds through June 23.
That leaves the last weekend and the Fourth of July bonanza left to be counted.
As a reminder, fishermen going out to take reef fish must have the fee-free Recreational Offshore Landing Permit. It’s available on the LDWF website: wlf.louisiana.gov.
For a more detailed LA Creel report, go to this LDWF’s website: wlf.louisiana.gov/red-snapper.
When Mike Melancon and his crew showed up Saturday, they has two sub-100-pound swordfish to fill out the new rodeo category, and a very rare catch.
Galliano fisherman Ronnie Collins’ catch didn’t make the leaderboard, but it deserved a mention.
Collins caught a marbled grouper.
“We’d seen one before out in this area. We saw it on a camera we dropped down under the boat,” Collins said. “We know they’re out there and I’ve wanted to catch one for a long time.
“It finally happened on this trip.”
The fish weighed out a 15 pounds, 2 ounces, and will take the No. 6 spot in the Louisiana Top 10 Fish Records List.
The list is maintained by the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association, and can be found on the LOWA website: laoutdoorwriters.com.
Trout & reds
Veteran coastal fishermen know how to catch hefty redfish, the ones pushing 30 or more pounds.
Take a crab, crack the shell and put it on a hook in a pass on a falling tide. It’s that simple.
This year it’s easier than that: bull reds are cruising the beaches, and the three leaderboard bulls topped 35 pounds.
What was more impressive was how knowledgeable inshore fishermen have become when it comes to chasing “rat” redfish, the ones measuring less than 27 inches long.
The GMFTR has a five-redfish stringer category for the under 27-inch fish, and this year it took 35-10 to make the leaderboard.
Gary Bruce led with 36-6, and Ryan Bagala was next at 36-0 with Barry Bourgeois’ holding the 35-10 stringer.
All 15 fish were beauties sporting the reddish bronze color indicating they were living in clear-water marshes. Since all three anglers listed Cut Off for a hometown, it’s sure they were fishing in northern Barataria waters. Redfish closer to the coast are red, all right, but don’t have the bronze color redfish have when living in marsh ponds and clear shallow-water lakes.
There were lots of redfish weighed, too.
Speckled trout didn’t measure up to a usual Fourth of July rodeo.
The heaviest trout, a 3-13, belonged to Lockport’s Pat Barker, but don’t take that to mean there was a dearth of trout throughout the holiday.
CCA Louisiana staffer Rad Trascher, the guy to runs the summer-long S.T.A.R., said he had limits of trout from in front of Grand Terre island, the stretch of sand and grass east of Grand Isle.
“I got live shrimp at 2:30 in the afternoon and had a limit in less than two hours,” Trascher said.
Because it was so hot — desert hot by noon — most inshore and nearshore anglers were off the water, so Trascher had most of Grand Terre to himself.
What his report showed is that the trout might have moved to the east from the run anglers enjoyed at The Fourchon and Elmer’s Island beaches.
Live shrimp remains the bait of choice, although shrimp-colored soft-plastic lures worked under corks are working.
Timing is the key: Begin working the beaches about three hours before high tide, then when the tide turns, pull out to the first or second sandbars. The water is a little cooler there and that’s where the bait has moved, too.
It helps to find little cuts in the island, anything that creates a little water movement and gives the predator fish an orientation point.
It takes a little work, but when you combine the factors of tide, time of day, water clarity, presence of bait, and wind, you’ll come back with fish in the ice chest.
With a forecast of high winds and rough seas from whatever-it-is off our coast, it’s likely there won’t be a run on red snapper nor trout, nor redfish.
It’ll be a bumpy day and night (or worse) for a couple of days and nights.