Bobby Jackson

Grand Isle 13-year-old Bobby Jackson experienced The ecstasy of catching a first-place rodeo fish when he brought this 3-pound, 12-ounce speckled trout to the Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo mid afternoon Thursday. The agony came near 15 minutes later when his prized catch was bumped into second place, and by late in the day, Jackson was in third place with two rodeo fishing left in the three-day event.

GRAND ISLE—No Major League pitcher, not even the legends, the Hall of Famers, could match the curveball Mother Nature threw at anglers assembled Thursday for the annual late-July fishing celebration that is the International Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo.

First, there were no tarpon, the signature of this oldest competitive fishing tournament in the country.

Word was the cold front south Louisianans celebrated for cooler morning temperatures broke the action on tarpon, a species that showed up earlier than expected this summer off Louisiana’s coast.

West winds, followed by a switch to the north, then to the northeast, then to the east over the matter of three days put, in the words of veteran tarpon chaser Lance “Coon” Schouest, “...the tarpon down too deep to give anyone a chance to catch them.”

That was the curveball few expected to see after an earlier-than-expected run on tarpon in all the usual places — the waters west of the Mississippi River delta, and some dozen miles south of Grand Bayou and southeast of Grand Isle.

Schouest isn’t the only one chasing silver kings. Lots of others were singing the tarpon blues. A collective belief among this tarpon “fleet” is calmer conditions predicted Friday and Saturday, along with a constant southeast breeze, will get forage back to the top of the water and get the tarpon chasing a morning meal.

“We saw 12 boats where we were (south of Grand Bayou), and there were 15 more boats in West Delta and two more off South Pass, and the guys in 42 feet of water — we were in 22 feet of water — hooked into one but didn’t land it,” longtime tarpon fishermen Jeff DeBlieux said. “We were out (Wednesday) and there was nothing. (Thursday) there was one school that came up, and that was where the hook-up came. That was it.”

DeBlieux, from Houma, said the newly formed Grand Isle Tarpon Club is handling the tarpon categories.

While those anglers were moaning and groaning and were out late Thursday for inspection tours, the hundreds of fishermen looking to fill the other near 40 leaderboard categories came in with reports of unfavorable seas — all of which meant unfilled categories, some vacant of entries, after the first day of this three-day 90-year-old-plus rodeo.

Brothers Royce and Brook Rispone looked haggard at the Sand Dollar Marina weighstation but put three fish on the leaderboard.

“It was rough going out, and even rougher coming in,” Royce Rispone said. “It was a good day. We didn’t go that far, maybe 20 miles, and we limited out on mangrove snapper. But, it was getting rough.”

Anthony Taormina watched Melvin Richard Jr. weigh two king mackerel, and asked a funny question.

“Is my backside flat? I spent more time hitting the deck than any trip I can remember. Yes, it got rough, but we went after kings and we got 'em.

A bright spot was the Inside Division anglers didn’t face winds and seas, until late afternoon thunderstorms invaded the island.

Most of the folks fishing “skinny” water caught fish, and those not-so-glamorous categories filled in the Inside and Children’s divisions. There was one standout. Jason Bouvail from Montz came in with a five-redfish, 34-pound, 10-ounce catch for a category limited to taking redfish measuring at least 16 inches long but less than 27 inches.

“We did catch 64 (speckled) trout today,” Prairieville’s Mike LeBlanc said. “We took waves over the bow early, but it was worth it.”

The lack of entries in the Big Game Division likely will change late Friday, and definitely by Saturday’s 6 p.m. final-day weigh-station deadline.

Most of the big deep-water boats went out Thursday morning, and early reports were the bad weather was between them and the island.