I have to start this blog entry with the disclaimer that I really don’t get to fish many tournaments. First of all, with my busy work and family schedules, it’s hard to commit to a date weeks in advance. Second, because I nearly 100 % fish with the fly rod, it’s hard to compete in a tournament against others who can use conventional tackle and even live bait. While I know that might sound like “sour grapes” on my part, I’m not a gambler. I never play the lottery and I detest casinos. I do, however, fish the Massey’s CPR tournament, which is a year-long event (I can fish at my leisure and not have to commit to a specific date) and it has a fly rod division.
Recently, a non-profit organization called Mission Six decided to host a salt water, fly fishing tournament down near my old stomping grounds in Point aux Chenes. Mission Six is an organization dedicated to support veterans and first responders. Point aux Chenes is a spot that holds fond memories for me back when I was in my late teens and early 20’s. I used to do a lot of “blast and cast” trips where we would duck hunt in the morning and follow that with a fishing trip to the sulfur mine. While I have fished the area from a kayak in recent years, I had never fished the designated area for the shotgun launch. The format of the tournament was very simple: The $60 donation would qualify a two-man team. $10 of that would go to the charity and the rest would go into the pot for cash prizes awarded to the anglers who could weigh in the two heaviest redfish. There would be a kayak division, a motorboat division, and an all-around division. I asked my buddy, Glen, “Catch” Cormier if he would be my team partner and he agreed.
Since I had never fished the specific area of the tournament, I figured it would be in our best interest to get a day of pre-fishing in. After a week of iffy weather, Glen and I were able to meet at the launch site Friday morning to try to simulate what was going to happen Saturday. We lunched at 6 AM and were greeted with a beautiful sunny morning with breezes running 5-10 mph. The morning started very slow for me. I don’t think I even saw my first redfish until after 10:30. Meanwhile, Mr. Cormier (they don’t call him Catch for nothing) had seen four, caught two, and had lost another. We decided that since the wind had picked up, we should try the broken marsh that could provide some lee-side water where we could spot a few fish. I saw and spooked my usual number of fish but I also managed to catch two small, slot-sized (the Louisiana slot is between 16 and 27 inches) redfish. I saw a bunch of sheepshead, several stingrays, and a few alligators to making the morning memorable. I headed back to the landing around 2 PM without a huge feeling of confidence. I had seen several redfish but most were in the small range…a perfect eating size but not tournament worthy. I spent the drive back to Baton Rouge contemplating why I was even fishing this tournament and what my strategy would be Saturday morning. After all, it was Father’s Day weekend and my daughter; her husband and my beautiful granddaughter were coming in town to see us. I actually looked for some sort of excuse to not have to drive the 2-and-a-half hour drive back down to Point aux Chenes the next morning. I checked to see if maybe the wind had picked up… no chance. The weather man predicted sunny skies with a light 5-10 mph wind. But how could I miss being with this princess?
Well, I decided I wasn’t going to stand my fishing buddy up so at 3 AM Saturday morning, I was back in my truck heading down to Point aux Chenes. Most people don’t know this, but when I go fishing, I use the experience to talk to God. I usually pray my rosary on the drive down there and I meditate on the blessings I’ve been given. This morning I was really praying for the health of my dad who was having some medical problems.
As I was nearing my destination, I was meditating about the peaceful and healing aspects about experiencing the awakening of the marsh and a beautiful sunrise down in South Louisiana…wait…that’s not the sun. There are…sprinkles on my windshield!! ARGH!!! I know, maybe the car in front of me was using its windshield washer to clean the early morning mosquitoes off. Nope…”That’s rain!” I mumbled to myself, as I approached the actual launch. The rising sun showed itself just barely through the heavy cloud cover. Surely this would quickly move north and we would get those predicted light and variable winds. Ding! Ding! Ding! Nope! Wrong again. The bright American flags at the launch site were blowing straight out. It was, however, good to see some familiar faces at the launch. I saw another fly fishing buddy of mine, Chuck Miller (Snake Doctor) from the BCKFC forum, Dustin, and a few other guys I’ve had the pleasure of running into, either on the water or on the forum.
Officials from the tournament were super-nice. Eddie and his wife, who run the kayak rentals and the launch were also very friendly and helped everyone get launched in a save, clean, environment. After a brief captains meeting, (we named our team, “Team St. Michael” because I teach there and Catch’s children graduated from there) we had our kayaks in the water and were heading out to the marsh where we had seen the most fish the day before. I consider myself to be a pretty strong paddler, but that morning, I think I had put too much ice in my ice chest (22 pounds) and the weight in the back was slowing me down. I would later be glad to have the ice, though.
Anyway after a 30-minute sprint on the water, Glen and I were easing our kayaks into the broken marsh and we were targeting fish on the leeward side of the broken marsh. I saw some “nervous water” and cast my gold spoon fly right in the middle of where I saw the commotion. Two casts later, and a bullet of a fish had slammed my fly and then peeled line off my reel. I turned the fish twice before it finally spit my fly. That was encouraging. I continued to work a stretch of marsh that was brand new to me and then the weather turned worse. The wind was now blowing 10-15 mph and it started to rain… and rain…and rain some more. It probably rained fairly hard for about 10-15 minutes. I tried to blind cast but I figured it was fruitless so I figured I should hydrate and rest up for the long day ahead.
After the rain stopped, it seemed the wind died down for about 5 minutes. That’s all I needed to get on the board. I was push poling my way down a marsh and I heard the tell-tale splash of a feeding fish. I pulled around the corner of a point and spotted a redfish in about 8 inches of water. I quickly stuck my push pole in the marsh to stop my kayak and grabbed my fly rod that I have holstered to my side. One accurate cast and I watched (I just LOVE watching them eat) a small slot redfish aggressively attack and consume my fly! I landed that 20-inch fish and I breathed a sigh of relief. I was on the board.
The wind picked up again and the cloud cover didn’t break. I knew that sight fishing was going to be extremely difficult. The only good thing I did have for me was the fact that the water wasn’t dirty and the redfish were a bright orange pumpkin color. At least, that’s how they showed up with my Costa polarized sunglasses. 🙂
About this time, thoughts about calling it a day kept creeping up in my head. I was soaking wet from the downpour we had experienced and I couldn’t keep that sweet grandchild off my mind.
I decided that I couldn’t catch fish by complaining about the weather or by not putting a fly in the water. I decided to do some blind casting and tried casting my fly as parallel to the grass as I could, which was not an easy task given the strong wind. After one errant cast that put my spoon fly in the marsh, I flipped it out about a foot from the bank. An 18-inch redfish came out of the water and smashed the fly on top. That was fun. Now I had two fish on ice and even if Catch scratched (which wasn’t likely) we had two fish for the weigh in. In hindsight, that should have given me a clue for a new tactic. I thought about tying on a popper, but I thought the water was too choppy for that so I continued to fish the fly I have the most confidence in, my spoon fly.
The pressure was off. I continued to weave my way in and out of the cuts and small duck ponds in the marsh, looking for tails, backs, or fleeing bait. I nosed my kayak into a small six-foot opening and noticed some fleeing shrimp at a point in the marsh. One quick cast and BAM! Fish on! I could tell right away this one wasn’t a small slot. It made a long run away from me and then charged right at my kayak. It ended up going under my kayak and was now making a beeline back behind me. It was giving me a Cajun Sleigh Ride in reverse!! I couldn’t get my kayak turned around. The darned redfish got stuck in some marsh, right around a corner. I finally got my kayak turned around and it made another long run and then came off the hook. I was so dejected!! I knew that was a “money fish.”
At that point, all kinds of thoughts go through one’s head. I pondered what could I have done differently. Should I have tried to horse it out and not let it take out so much line? Should I have set the hook harder? Should I head back to Baton Rouge? Just then, I get a text from my brother asking me how I was doing. I texted back that I had just lost my money fish and that the weather and conditions were not good. I picked myself back up and continued to work the area.
Then it happened. I was working a small pond and had just made a right turn into a new area where the pond was about to make a dead end. That’s when I saw the orange mass of scales and fins cruising toward me. I can’t tell you how many times that scenario has played out before only to have the fish see me and spook without me even getting to make a cast toward it. I was able to stop my forward motion with my push pole and the fish turned away from me. IT HAD NOT SEEN ME!! I worked quickly and quietly as I picked my rod up from my “holster” and put my spoon fly about 2 feet out in front of the moving fish, which wasn’t that hard to do since the fish was only about 15 feet out in front of my kayak. I stripped it slowly so the fish would intercept it and BAM! FISH ON!! This time I was determined not to let the fish win the battle. I frantically grabbed my paddle and turned my kayak as the fish went south of my direction again. However, this time, I was able to get my kayak turned and I put a little pressure on the fish to turn it away from going into the next small duck pond. I had a money fish on the end of my fly line and I had it in open water. Advantage Doc!
I’m sure I kept talking to myself. No, take that back I was talking out loud to anyone who could hear me in the vicinity. Fortunately for them, that was no one 🙂 Finally, what seemed like 10 minutes (which was in actuality only 5) I had the fish in the net and in my kayak. It was a beauty! The only question now, “was it going to measure in at under 27 inches?” When I pinched the tail, the fish’s tail just barely touched the 27–inch mark on my bump board. I knew that if given some time on ice, this fish would shrink and come in to the weigh in at under 27.
The Money Fish
I continued to fish the rest of the morning and spooked a good number of fish. I was really never ever able to cast to a fish. I did do some blind casting, but when I called Glen and found out that he had caught 9 fish on poppers and two of those were 25 inches, I had a good feeling about our chances of placing in the tournament.
Catch and I showed a bit of quiet and calm excitement as we neared the weigh scales. When Eddie saw my fish (6.4 lbs), he remarked that it was definitely the largest of the day and our combined total weight of 11.4 was the winning stringer. We still had a half hour left until the scales closed but we felt confident that we would be in the money somewhere.
I know this has been a long read, but you have to understand that I’ve never won a tournament…ever! I led the Massey’s CPR tournament for about 9 months in its inaugural year, only to come out second in the final weekend of the tournament. Another year, I actually tied for first but had to settle for second because I lost the tiebreaker. All this is really OK for me. While I do take my fishing seriously, I don’t take myself or tournaments seriously. Competition in and of itself if good if one puts it into perspective. After all. Did Beethoven, Mozart, or Bach have to win competitions or tournaments to prove to the world that they were the masters at their craft?
So for fishing the inaugural Mission Six Fly Tournament, Team St. Michael placed first in the kayak division and first overall. I earned a first place award (a box of flies) for biggest fish as well. The win came with a $300 cash prize, an Allen Kraken fly reel for each of us (each reel valued at $250 each) and another $100 worth of salt water flies. That’s close to $900 in cash and prizes. What do you think “Team St. Michael” did with the cash? We returned it to the charity, of course 🙂 Glen and I were more excited to win those quality Allen reels! Anyway, I think I can make this an annual event. A special thanks to the team at Mission Six and for what they do for our veterans, our police, firefighters, and other first responders. Also thank you to the great sponsors of this event, including Jackson Kayak (I own one), Allen Fly Rods and Reels (I own a rod and now a reel), Zook Designs, Scientific Angler, Orvis of Baton Rouge, Allen Simon Flies, and Eddie Mullen of PAC Kayak Rentals.