It’s a week since Tim Champagne said was his best-ever day on the water, and the 47-year-old from Lafayette still has a tough time believing it.
It was the day before the Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo began, and while hundreds of boats were readying for the rodeo, Champagne was taking the only option he had, heading out with a group of his buddies to fish with veteran charter skipper André Boudreaux.
He knew it was then or never. Work in the oil field is like that. Take your best shot when you have the chance.
And the offshore trip out of Cocodrie started with the boat pulling up to a platform in Ship Shoal Block 222.
“We were in about 70 feet of water, a place where André knew we had a chance to load up on mangroves (snapper), and we were free-lining (live) croakers,” Champagne said. “We caught fish, then I cast near the (platform’s) boat bumper and a mangrove hit.
“He gave me a pretty good fight.”
Champagne didn’t sense anything out of the ordinary. Mangroves are brutes, strike hard and can strain tackle and fishermen to the max. Even the small ones can lead an angler to believe he’s battling a fish twice its size.
“I didn’t see the fish at the boat,” Champagne said. “The deckhand jumped in front of me to net the fish. He missed on the first shot and said it was because the fish was so big.
“He got the fish in the boat and put it in the ice chest. Then André said we had to take another look at the fish. He said it was big, the biggest he’d ever seen, and he put the Boga Grip (scale) on it and it was almost 19 pounds. That’s when André told me, ‘I think you have a new state record.’ ”
With no Internet to check that far off the Louisiana coast, the crew had to wait until they got within sight of land to make the call and find the records.
“One of the guys on the boat said they’d read something about mangrove and read about a guy catching one over 15 pounds, but never turned it over to the outdoor writers,” Champagne said.
As soon as they were able, a check of the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association’s website — LOWA is the official keeper of the State Top 10 Fish Records — showed the existing record was 14.36 pounds by Michael Lorio in June, 2008.
It didn’t take long to have the fish identified by a state biologist and certify the weight.
At 18.63 pounds — the mangrove measured nearly 32 inches long — it blew the lid off the state record.
“Then Roland Stevens said we should check on the world record,” Champagne said, “and we found that it was 17 pounds.”
That prompted a call to Florida and jumping through more hoops to send in the paperwork to oust the existing International Game Fish Association’s all-tackle gray snapper (the official species name) world record of 17 pounds caught off Florida’s Atlantic Coast in 1992.
If Champagne’s fish is certified a world record, it will give Louisiana three world record snappers, and he’ll join “Doc” Kennedy’s massive 50-pound, 4-ounce red snapper and Marion Rose’s gigantic 124-12 cubera snapper in the IGFA book.
“It was great, and I can’t get the day out of my mind,” Champagne said. “My parents owned a wholesale (fishing) distribution business, and I can’t tell you how many Mustad hooks we sold over the years, and here it is I caught a record fish on a Mustad circle hook.”
And, for him, maybe the best part of catching the fish was showing it off.
“I even got to show it to Ted Nugent,” Champagne said. “That was cool.”
The fish is headed to a famed Florida taxidermist, and will hold a place of honor in the Champagne’s Lafayette home.