I waffled a lot on whether I wanted to do this tournament, since the entry fee was on the stiff side ($125), but in the end, I had a rare opportunity to fish two days in a row, and no work on Saturday, so I decided it was worth a shot. The Wednesday before the tournament, I took my son along for a little field trip to Puglia's, and signed up as the Men of Leisure (thanks Will Thompson for the name), along with Josh Reppel and Tyler Drude. This was the first year the tournament has been put on, and they are already talking about how they can do it bigger and better next year. The format was pretty cool, with kayakers and boaters in the same category. Kayakers could have up to 4 person teams, whereas the boaters were limited to two. Weigh in on Friday was at 3pm, and the teams were able to upgrade anything they could on Saturday. They could have done a little better with the clarity of the rules, as they made a last minute change on Friday, allowing people to fish all day and weigh their catch on Saturday, which was pretty clearly contradicting what they had originally laid out, and the weigh in on Saturday was an hour earlier than Friday, which was missed by at least one angler with a very competitive bag, costing him some serious money. On to the fishing:
Friday, we got a little bit of a late start, and I don't think we were really casting until at least 7am, maybe 7:30. The weather was great, with low wind and mostly sunny skies. As soon as I saw a few fish, I thought it was going to be an epic sight fishing day, but as it turns out, the fish just were not really staging in the shallower areas. It took a little while to figure out the pattern, but we eventually figured out that the fish were in the slightly natural bayous that wound through the marsh. They weren't deep by any measure, maybe 2-3' at most, but the fish seemed to be mostly traveling them in search of bait, in schools of 4-6. At that point, it was a matter of just finding the right fish, throwing back anything that was smaller than the 3 biggest fish we currently had. Luckily, it wasn't very long before we had a couple of decent fish, as keeping anything alive on a stringer was a challenge. I did have a couple of fun sight fishing hookups, and got to witness Josh pull of a double hookup with two redfish, as well as the carnage that resulted from the fish wrapping his lines around the boat. Tyler ended up with the big fish of the day. After sorting out what fish we wanted to weigh in, we felt like we were in pretty decent condition, but were curious to see what everyone else had come up with.
Well, as it turns out, we were in first place, with a combined weight of 22.64lbs. Even better than that, kayakers held the first three slots, with Chuck Bahan in 2nd, and Sean Rastanis, Aaron Breaux and Tyler Caldwell in 3rd. Things were looking good, but we had no idea how many boats at what level of skill were coming in the next day, so we definitely wanted to upgrade. After a few beers, provided by some of the fine ladies of Rick's Cabaret, we all made our way back home to get some sleep for day two.
Day 2, we got a little earlier start, hitting the water right at 6am, the earliest permitted fishing time. The morning was absolutely beautiful, with a quilted pattern of clouds and glasslike water providing a serene setting. We had talked about possibly fishing trout, but decided that we wanted to try to really secure our win rather than taking any chances. With the water as calm as it was, we were able to see a few redfish tails here and there, as well as some wakes and swirls. It wasn't long before I had caught 4 fish, but all of them went back in the water, as they were either just over 27" or too small to be useful. We really had to find the 26-27" fish in order to upgrade. For the most part, the rest of the day would be the same kind of somewhat uneventful fishing, with sight fishing almost impossible with the cloud cover. I saw a great number of fish that I spooked, and caught quite a few blind casting and casting at tails and swirls, but finding that perfect fish was proving difficult. I started psyching myself out at one point, feeling pressured to upgrade a fish, and not feeling like I was performing very well. I missed two tailing fish in a row due to poor hooksets, and had to take a few minutes to drink some water and eat some food, my usual routine if I feel like I'm becoming unfocused or angry. At some point after that, I decided to keep a small fish for the grill, but dropped him out of my net somehow. The fish was still stunned, so I paddled back over, and scooped him up. Turning to put the fish in the cooler, it slipped out of my hands, bounced on the lip of the cooler, and slid back into the water, where it promptly took it's opportunity to swim off. The day was just going that way. In any case, we fished long and hard, and eventually came up with a few decent fish. Now, there is still some debate as to who's fish got weighed in, but one of either Josh or my fish was weighed in to give us boost up to just under 24lbs. I believe the total weight at the end of the day was 23.98lbs. I was fairly surprised, but none of the boaters or other kayakers had been able to knock us off of first place, and we were going home with $2500! That is definitely a great way to forget about a day where you feel you underperformed! Fellow kayaker Kalon Johnson (surprise) came in 3rd, and the other kayak guys finished just out of the money.
The awards ceremony was, of course, held at Rick's Cabaret on Bourbon St. Trust me when I say that it was a lot easier to explain to my wife when I told her I would be coming BACK with money, not the opposite. It seemed like most of the participants waved off the party, which turned out to be their loss, as they had some great prizes to give out. It seemed like just about everyone around me had landed something nice - a cool rod for Kalon, a Yeti cooler for Tyler, a couple of rods for Josh, when I turned to Kalon and said "I never win anything". Well, fateful words, because the next number came up and shockingly enough, matched the ticket I had in my hand. I had one the $1000 cash prize, provided by Puglia's, and comically enough, paid out in 10 stacks of 100 dollar bills. Now, if you've never held a stack of $1000 in one dollar bills in a strip club, it feels vaguely like swimming around in the Nile river with a dead chicken tied to your leg... I gave each of the guys on the team $100, gave the hostess $100 to distribute to her friends, had a couple of drinks and boogied on out of there, with the money wrapped up in a t-shirt, after posing for a couple of goofy photos.
I'm not the biggest tournament angler, and often can't make the weekend events due to work, but I really dug the team format of this one, and felt like the pressure to pay attention and fish smart was a great way for me to get better. Having a three man team was actually a great benefit for us, as there was always a majority opinion for our decisions. It was great to place against the boats, and prove that kayaks can more than hold their own, especially in a redfish tournament in the summer, where I almost feel like we have an advantage. I spoke to a few boaters about how they were fishing, and to be honest, kind of shook my head at how they were going about it. The grass is your friend, the grass is your friend, the grass is your friend. Repeat it until you believe it to be true! Anyway, I spoke a little bit to Anthony Puglia when I went in to blow some of the money I won, and he said they already have more sponsors interested for next year, so hopefully this will be another great event for kayakers for the future. In a funny twist of fate, it was actually him who told me I should get a kayak and start fishing that way, and recommended that I check out the Bayou Coast Kayak Fishing Club. Of course, for this purchase, I paid him in one dollar bills...
The most important thing to note for this entire event - my sweet, understanding wife took care of our not-quite 3 month old son for the majority of two solid days in order for this to all happen. Thank you so much Aline! You're the best.
A few more photos: