My Paddle Palooza Report (I caught a slam…of sorts)

I fished my first official Bayou Coast Kayak Fishing Club tournament since January of 2012 (Minimalist Challenge). This tournament, dubbed Paddle Palooza, allows kayak fishermen to use any tackle (artificial, live bait, etc.) to compete for cash and prizes, including several brand new kayaks. The goal is to catch a slam consisting of your largest speckled trout, redfish, and flounder. I chose to bring only my fly rod and resolved to try to catch a slam but I to have fun with it since I figured I would not have a chance to be in the money. With ominous weather forecasts predicted for the day, I wondered if I was making the right choice. At one point during the week, the winds were predicted to blow 20 miles-per-hour. I was encouraged by watching the large American flags that I use as reference points along my drive down there which weren’t moving very much. In addition to that, a heavy fog had developed which was making visibility difficult.
When I arrived at my launch spot around 6:30 in the morning, there were three other vehicles with kayaks in front of me. One of them was a buddy of mine who wasn’t going to be able to fish because of family obligations and two members of the LSU kayak fishing team. I was the last guy to get in the water and after a short paddle out into the marsh, I watched Team LSU catch a couple of specs and one nice redfish. I knew that if I was going to catch any fish, I had better get to my usual spots before the predicted winds would pick up.
Experience has taught me to formulate a plan before getting on the water. It’s always more difficult, especially under low-light conditions, to tie knots and make big changes in my plans early on with a 9-foot rod inside a kayak. My plan was to take advantage of the near-flat seas to tie on a popper and target my trout. A gold spoon fly was tied on to my second rod to target redfish. I fished the edges of points and quickly got some aggressive trout to bust my popper. The only problem was I could not get them to hook up. I would sometimes get several strikes on every cast. The trout were knocking my popper all around! Now, most of these trout appeared to be small, in the 10 to 12-inch range. However, I was getting very perplexed as I watched large trout roll and smack my little two-inch popper and not find the hook. I checked my hook to make sure it was sharp and it was…so I figured the hook was set too far in the rear of the popper. These fish were smacking the head of the popper and were completely missing the hook. Close inspection of the popper showed teeth scratches all over the little minnow. I decided to replace the popper with a smaller one and started to catch some fish. I had caught and released a couple of trout that measured around the 12 inch mark when I hooked into a speckled trout which would become my personal best on the fly at 19 inches. I fished that point a little more and managed to lose a nice-sized spec and land a few more in the 12 to 13 inch range that I released.
3:23:13 Trout Submission
By now, the winds were starting to pick up so I decided to try to target redfish before the wind got too bad. Because of the high water and overcast sky, sight–fishing was going to be totally out of the question. I targeted breaks in the marsh, drop-offs, and shallow oyster beds. The problem with that was there was an unusually large amount of algae (scum) in the marsh and the oyster beds were covered, making it difficult to spot. I managed to fish a couple of spots I knew held oysters and I picked up a 19-inch redfish and one a just a bit over 21 inches on a gold spoon-fly.
3:23:13 Spoon-PP Redfish
I then considered making my way back to the car to think about trying to catch a slam when I hooked what I thought was a redfish. It was a flat fish but instead of spots (like a flounder) it had stripes. 🙂
3:23:13 Sheepshead
The hookup of the day came a little later. I had just eased my way into a little indention in the marsh that was on the lee side of the wind. I had seen some nervous water near a cut coming into the spot and I planned on letting the wind carry me into the area. I saw a big redfish cruise within 10 feet of my kayak and it hadn’t seen me. I quickly tossed my spoon-fly out in front of it and gave it a quick strip to get the fish’s attention. My fly landed a little west of this north-bound, bronze-colored train and I watched it change direction and make a bee-line toward this shiny intruder in its territory. Bam! He slammed it! The fish quickly stripped line off my reel and I fought to keep my kayak from slamming into the marsh as the wind was blowing me away from where the fish was swimming. After the initial run or two, I was able to gain line from the fish, but alas, it made another run and managed to make a clean cut of my tippet on some sort of underground structure, probably oysters.
The paddle back to the car was brutal. I had ventured a couple miles north of my put-in point and had to paddle back into a very stiff wind. I took a few breaks in my paddle to try a few spots but only managed my second sheepshead of the day.
At the weigh-in, I managed to catch up with several fishing buddies I hadn’t seen in a while. I also helped clean fish nonstop, for 2-and-a-half hours. In the process I saw some of the largest speckled trout I’ve seen in many, many years! There were several over 22 inches and I believe a couple hit the 25 or 26 inch mark.
It is said that there are no losers in Paddle Palooza. Well, I had a great time and caught fish in windy conditions. Additionally, I was able to catch two fish that I will be able to enter in Massey’s CPR (Catch, Photo, Release) tournament. It is open to BCKFC members and there is a fly fishing division. I think my 19-inch trout will hold up for a while. If not, then I’ll just have to catch a larger one before the tournament ends in October.