Tuesday, April 15, 2014

PaddlePalooza 2014: Finally Flounder

I was pretty distracted this year for Paddlepalooza;  my mom was still in the hospital but doing better, Holy Week was coming up, should I even be fishing this tournament?   But this is my work and my play - I was ready to compete and we got off to an incredibly early start leaving Thibodaux at 3:30am is not for the faint of heart.

It was scary early:  Either this is the fishing buddy or Zombie Kayaker - you decide.

We arrived at "T-Pops" to find we had beat the "minnow guy" to our starting point.  We decided to forego minnows and I decided to replace them with market shrimp.  This is only used in the early morning before light and as a "drag" bait hoping to pick up a random fish or two so it wasn't a major decision.

We hit the launch and were surprised to find we had the joint to ourselves:

How does this thing even float?

After a brief benediction - it was out to our starting point.  Literally we went out and sat at a couple of "points" on the edge of Catfish Lake hoping to pick up some incidentals.  Fishing in the dark is not easy stuff.  I made one key bad decision already this morning - reading glasses.  I decided the built in readers in my sunglasses were sufficient.  Not so much - at dark thirty.  My morning got off to a frustrating start with three break offs, two rat reds, and a catfish.  All in the dark, all without reading glasses.  Finally I had the sunglasses on, my hat light, and a tactical flashlight in my mouth.  The sun couldn't rise fast enough for me.  Once the sun came out the shrimp were forgotten for many hours (this will matter).

Another of my (well documented) problems is that I often forget the camera is there.  Especially when I'm bleary and the fishing is slow.  I picked up my first two fish shortly after dawn when I moved my location.  I didn't photograph either of these 13-14 inch trout because they seemed pretty insignificant.  Last year a dozen 3++ lb trout came out of this lake.  I was sure I would need to improve my trout.

I moved around a tiny bay or what we call a "horseshoe" and "bam" big fish on.  After a few seconds I was pretty sure I had a bull red.  And once I boated the fish I discovered it was 28.5 inches.  A fish will shrink slightly under ice all day (two years ago I shrunk a 27" red just under the line for 1st place red at 7.9lbs) but you can't gain an inch and a half.  So regretfully I released him.  I wasn't to worried because redfish are my specialty (right?).

Next we spent an hour "banging the bank" for trout, flounder, and reds.  Fishing buddy had a solid 18" trout and no reds.  I had a pair of smaller trout and nothing else to show for it but some slime from some rat reds.

Finally the jumping off point in our plan was to make a long move across the lake to some dams that might hold flounder.  The fishing buddy left before I did allowing me to check out a "big trout" hole.  Nothing there for me and after some thought - I just couldn't paddle across the lake.  

Earlier I had caught my biggest trout and that bull red in the same "horseshoe" so I made an "audible" and changed course back to that area.  There is a small drain running out of the march into this area with a hard bank covered with Roseau Cane - a very typical flounder spot.  So I headed back there.  I anchored with the wind at my back.  Cut off the top-water bait and put on a 1/4 ounce silver Johnson Minnow.  First cast I feel a very strong bump on the line and then nothing.  I start to reel in and there's no resistance.  I'm thinking, "What's going on here?"  A red usually runs laterally to the boat.  This is not a red.  "Did I lose my bait?"

Then it dawns on me.  I don't catch many flounder so I forget what it's like.  It starts with a bump then there is the run.  I start to real in frantically.  And finally some tension.  I lift that pole straight into the air and then there's that distinctive pull - straight down.  Flounder!  Flounder!  OMG (sorry Lord) Flounder!  

Let's pause for some back story here.  This is my 6th PaddlePalooza.  First PP I caught two reds within sight of the weigh in after relaunching.  Second Paddlepalooza I started the day losing a flounder out of my net because my new kayak had a raised hatch in the middle.  Set down the net, flounder headed right over the side.  That was a $500 fish as I finished just out of the money with a two fish slam.  A few years later I lost another flounder out of my hand at the bag.  Another $500 fish.  Two many years I've finished out of the big money after hours of trying to catch a flounder.  All that would be erased.

I'm in a panic at this point.  I can't lose this fish - not this time buddy.  So he's in the boat, the net is high.  I just sit there a minute and Praise the Lord!  So now I've got to get this fish in the bag.  He's just going to have to sit there a minute. I dig out my knife and cut his throat.  I'm taking no chances.  I get him on the fish grabbers, (he bit me - I broke his jaw) I'm playing no games here.  I decide to risk a photo:

Truly a beautifully ugly fish!
I bring the bag around, I put this guy on Ice then I soak in the moment.  Again thank You Lord.  I call the fishing buddy who begins an immediate 2 mile haul to this spot. 

I realize I have some time to look for some reds.  So I head over to a place I call "The Little Red School House" its a pond that one PP was stacked with reds.  It's silted in a bit but there is almost always a few reds in this school.  So I get there and I'm trying to "sight cast" unfortunately I drift up on a red and he is gone pecan.  I think, "man you have to fish - stop hunting".  So I start blind casting, next thing you know I've got my line out 50 ft or more and I look down and plain as day there is a perfect red 6 ft from the boat.  I'm reeling in for all I'm worth and when the bait hits my rod tip and wiggles that red catches sight of me and hauls off.  I'm thinking, "Man you've got to stop blind casting and hunt these things!"  LOL yes I see the irony.

I spend the next 40 minutes looking for reds and the fishing buddy spends it trying to pull another flounder out of that spot.

But we had plans to pull up stakes and fish a second location.  So off we go to Grand Isle.  We show up at our launch site to see a face familiar to the leader board.  Hookn1 is right there.  After swapping some inconclusive information he states, "Well if you can't catch a red here you're in trouble."  I didn't like that kind of pressure but I sure felt good about the news.  So with high hopes off we paddled into the the ever increasing winds.

The wind was becoming a problem and the pressure was on.  We made it to our destination after a serious upwind paddle.  And I was feeling it.  Yesterday I had flown in from Virginia where I had spent the week sitting in the hospital with my sick mother.  I was not at my best and these were tough conditions.  But I'm a redfish specialist right?  

The next 2 hours were a lesson in humility.  I kept making wrong moves.  It was like I had forgotten everything I knew.  I had a perfect fish on the line and when he ran right at the boat I got tangled in my spare pole.  Fish or gear?  I chose my gear and lost the fish.  

At this point the fishing buddy went one way and I went the other.  Would this change pay off like the other?  I pray a lot during tournaments and at key moments like this it cranks up.  I'm talking to God, "Just one little miracle fish Lord that's all I need."  It takes a while but finally I get a fish in sight, it's small but its red.  I get a perfect cast.  I land the fish with out problems.  And I see a glorious sight.  It's got 7 spots on the side I'm looking at, the opposite side reveals another 6.  This matters because at PaddlePalooza there is a "lottery fish"  the redfish with the most spots wins a kayak.  I had my slam true, but it was a tiny slam.  I had something better - a miracle fish with 13 spots.  

I kept fishing for another hour to the same results, spooked fish and missed opportunities.  I called the fishing buddy and he was killing some big reds.  But I was out of energy, and running out of time.  So I continued to work toward the launch.  This may have been a 2,000 dollar decision - we will never know.  I never caught another fish.  4 keepers in the boat on the day.  Fortunately I knew I had some prize coming my way.  
  • either I'd win the Leopard red Kayak
  • or I'd win the flounder division
  • or maybe I'd win something with this "mirco" slam
We loaded up and headed to the weigh in with barely time to spare.  We arrived and I started getting some bad news.  Two 17 spotted reds had already showed up, another 15 spotted fish was on the books.  Turns out that my 13 spotted red would have been 6th place!!!  Not even in the money.  Wow.

But then I had a nice flounder and a slam.  I entered the line and the stories started flowing.  There was a slam in front of me and a slam behind me.  We never share exact sizes (I don't know why) but I decided it was time to pause for a picture:

A happy man.  Six years of frustration rewarded!
By the reaction to my slam I knew I had something special.  Three different guys said, "Nice flounder".  It was good to hear but two other guys said, "You're in the money." Turns out I was near the end of the line and there were only 4 slams ahead of me and one behind me - six slams (a true slam is all three fish Trout, Redfish, Flounder).  I knew we were paying out 10 positions and the "true" three fish slams paid out first.  Awesome.

Next thing I find out is that one of the slams in front of me had an over sized red.  Only five slams and I'm standing there with one of them.  Then I hear the report on the expected payouts.  I realize even if I'm 5th I'm going to have my best tournament payout ever!  Wow.  I'm fit to be tied.  My fellow anglers are pretty amused.  

I'm professing some flounder love!
The guy in front of me "fishfinder" weighs his slam.  Trout is a mirror image, the flounder is smaller, but the redfish is bigger.  I'm sure he has me beat.  Later he assures me that he's convinced I'm ahead of him:  but where will we fall out?  

Word trickles out I've got 5th place.  Relieved to know my spot I congratulate "fishfinder" who didn't know yet.  Then the announcements turns out we were a perfect match.  Same weight but he was in front of me by two people therefore he won!  Wow.  
Cajun Slams lbs Prize Won
1st Jeff Breaux 10.19 Hobie Pro Angler 14
2nd Jason Austin 8.15 Hobie Outback
3rd Wayne Lobb 6.45 1000 Gift Card Backpacker
4th Elliot Stevens 6.33 $800 
5th Bill Crawford 6.33 $750 
6th Steve Lessard 9.52 2fish $700 
7th Chris Holmes 9.26 2fish $650 
8th Brendan Bayard 8.81 2fish $600 
9th Tommy Eubanks 8.45 2fish $550 
10th Shane Curol 8.29 2fish $500 

I know this is an epic post.  But let me close with a few final reflections.  Remember the shrimp that I put away?  The winner caught all his fish on dead shrimp.  Now that's funny.  (for me:  trout= hackberry hustler by TTF, flounder = silver Johnson silver minnow; redfish = BSOD cusotmized spoon)

And remember I prayed for a miracle fish?  Remember too that I thought it was the spots?  Nope.  It was that so many excellent anglers had such a rough day that a regular Joe like me could bring home the bacon with a tiny little redfish.  That a "redfish expert" couldn't bring in the big fish to take home the big money.  I had to depend on God's grace once again.

But that's not the only thing that was special:

Is it any accident that I had won $750 after spending an unexpected $758 to go visit my sick mom?  

I'll let you draw the conclusions you want to.  Sunday Morning I celebrated Palm Sunday with my King.  He governs my life in every way and I am so fortunate.  This tournament a win, last tournament an epic failure and always Emmanuel= God is with us.  

Glory to God Alone!

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