No tarpon, not for two days, but, finally, one.
It was a stunning development for two full days for a fish so hotly pursued during Louisiana’s summer that the Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo began in 1928 with the full intent of carrying its name.
But, this year, a tarpon, tagged and released early Saturday, kept the string intact.
It was a bummer, but not for long because near 4 p.m. Saturday, this rodeo’s final day, a stunner of fish, a near 400-pound blue marlin, wowed an ever-growing crowd at the Sand Dollar Marina weighstation.
“It was one of four we hooked up and brought to the boat,” Jeff Landry said after the Fleur de Lis docked at the marina.
“This one was the third one,” Landry said. “We got it to the boat in about 30 minutes around 10 o’clock (Saturday morning) and we tagged and released another one bigger than that about an hour later.”
Landry — Louisiana’s Attorney General — said he’s been hankering to get back to rodeo fishing for the past eight years, and their three-day adventure into Louisiana’s offshore waters made the wait worth the while.
“We caught red snapper on the way out, and some big ones, and were surprised we caught a cobia at that first stop,” Landry said.
“We looked for yellowfin tuna, but didn’t find any, but caught a couple of nice bull dolphin. What made it even better was my wife and son were on the trip. It was special.”
Apparently they went after blackfin tuna, because, Landry explained, the Fleur de Lis crew rigged live blackfins to induce marlin strikes.
“We caught and release two (marlin) Friday and all came on live bait,” Landry said.
It’s not all that often a big blue arrives at the scales, but it happened Saturday and gave the crowd a buzz absent from the rodeo’s first two days.
Almost as rare as the absence of tarpon is the appearance of a tripletail, a recluse among the near 40 specie categories for this rodeo. There have been years when the category went empty, but not this year.
Kris Elliott’s 4-pound, 7-ounce catch uncapped the lid on tripletail near midday at the Sand Dollar Marina weighstation. He said he caught it in the early morning under lights near pilings north of Grand Isle.
“I was using live shrimp and the speckled trout were showing up in the lights, but I only caught a couple. It was disappointing,” Elliott said.
The Bayou Gauche angler said he saw the tripletail — “I’d seen small ones before, but nothing that size” — and before he could get a shrimp in the water the fish disappeared.
“I know there’s a (size) limit on them, so I went back in the camp and checked, and it looked a lot longer than the size limit,” Elliott said. “When I went back down to the lights, the fish was back.
“It’s my first tripletail.”
Then, there was the usual appearance of the BLUMF crew from Terrebonne Parish, a group tied together by the Babin family, who showed up with their usual broad smiles indicative of the ice chests they were about to unload.
“If this fish holds up, it will be the fifth straight year we’ve won,” Lance Babin said. “We love to catch (black) drum, and this year we finally got on some big ones.”
Yeah, like someone was going to bump a 51-pound, 14-ounce black drum from first place. Good luck with that. The Babins swept the board.
“Finally I can say Oyster Bayou is back,” Babin said. We caught big redfish, too. For years oyster beds disappeared from the bayou, but they’re back again, and the fish are back.
“I can’t tell you how excited we are about that.”
Two other species falling on hard times in recent rodeos are speckled trout and croaker, not that there’s a lack of these fish, but the giants have been hard to find.
Mississippi’s Doug Borries took care of the speckled trout. Fishing a location he said was east of Grand Isle, Borries brought in a 6-6 “mule” trout he entered in the Inside Division, and two more five-pounders in the Kayak Division.
“I’m catching them at night on live croakers,” he said. “There are fish there during the day, but they’re much smaller.”
Borries said he caught a 7-2 in a rodeo three weeks ago, and went back to check last week and landed, and released, a six-pounder.
“It showed me the fish were still there. But Thursday was too rough to fish from a kayak, and I caught that big one from my boat.
“Friday night I was able to put the kayak in and catch those five-pounders.”
Minutes later, just before the Children’s Division 3 p.m. weigh-in deadline, 8-year-old Beaux McKinney showed up with his dad, Louis, who has dominated the croaker category for years.
That wasn’t to be this year, because folks are finding big croaker around rigs near the mouth of the Mississippi River. McKinney said he fished east of the river, while another rival angler, Adam Guillory said he’s found a “croaker honey hole” in the West Delta oil block.
“They’re always there,” McKinney said “In all the time fishing there I’ve caught only one red snapper. There are lots of vermilion snapper there. Maybe because there are no red snapper is the reason why we’re the only boat on that rig. It’s held big croaker for years.”
If success is determined by activity, then this one held its own: some 31 categories changed hourly Saturday, and at least 25 first-place fish were weighed on its final afternoon.
And it was left to Beaux McKinney to put a bow on this 91st annual event. The youngster swept the category, and brought smiles from the crowd to rival the wows Landry’s near 400 times larger entry did.