Tuesday, April 21, 2015

9th Out of Over 280 Isn't So Bad!

PaddlePalooza 12 is now in the books and what an adventure it was!  One of the most diverse groups made up the largest PaddlePalooza to date and I was proud to participate with them.  It was a grueling contest with some excellent anglers.  Seems simple to go out in South Louisiana and catch a trout, a redfish, and a flounder.  It happens fairly often.  But go out today and say I'm going to do it and see how hard it suddenly becomes.  This year the largest field in PaddlePalooza history would do it in challenging circumstances.

It all begins with hopes dreams and loading up the old faithful truck for one more battle!

Two weeks out:

For years I've said we need to make shirts that say : "I Survived PaddlePalooza".  And the sprinkle on the truck on this pre-fishing trip was predictive!  The forecast was bad for two weeks in advance and it didn't look like it would get any better. But you make plans and hope for the best this is life and this is tournament fishing. So load the truck unload the truck, load the truck unload it, load it again!

The first trip out was an act in humility as the fishing buddy put on a clinic catching more than 3 fish to each one of mine including some 3lb trout, a pair of reds, and a solid Black Drum that didn't realize it wasn't supposed to chase down artificial bait:

We caught plenty of these but the rain just wouldn't let me take a nice picture:

Fishing was OK in the old fishing hole but we wanted to broaden our horizons and get further south and that's where our plans centered.  So we planned a trip to Grand Isle but West winds moved us back to familiar territory further north once again:

3 Days out:

This time I was fishing with a relative new comer Kalon Johnson.  And we produced similar results:

The Nightreuse Vortex Shad just kept producing.  The sizes weren't great but that would come as the previous trip had several big trout caught.  We spent a few hours picking up some trout in tough conditions with rain coming and going again.

But this trip we made a serious push for some reds and though it was rough we started to hit them.

When the pumps are humming and the dirty water is flowing it becomes a challenge to find the reds but we had some ideas in mind: 3 miles away from the pump.  There is a canal with a solid bank that breaks up the dirty water in the system.  On the far side we found ponds with grass, clean water, and redfish! I caught a few little ones first and we kept moving.  They had to get bigger or this spot would not pan out.

 Finally.  I loaded up some nice sized reds and spooked a few more.  Once I caught three in the area it was time to go.  You know you are tournament fishing when you say, "The fish are here let's get out of here." but if you want to be successful at tournament fishing you have to do this with reds.  They will be there if you leave them alone.

No flounder on this day but that's OK we knew they come when they want to and flounder fishing takes time that can be better used when scouting.

So back home after 12 hours on the water. Put the gear away and go to bed so I can work, come home and gear up on Friday.

24 hours out:

I woke up Friday after a solid night of sleep to notice my garage door is open.  I rush inside and the unbelievable has happened - the day before a tournament all my best rods and reels are gone.  I've been robbed!  It takes a little while to realize what has happened and then what am I going to do?  Pray a little for serenity and then you think "its got to be handled". Call the police, call the wife, call the insurance company.  Figure out the plan.

So I go to work finish the basics in the office, call a few members to check in, and hit the road looking for replacement rods and reels.  Much harder than you might think.  I drove an hour to New Orleans and hit a bonus - Tent Sale at Chag's in Metairie.  Picked up 5 rods and off to Puglia's nothing there for me and move on to Dick's Sporting Goods pick up four reels.  Then I drive to Gretna hit another Dick's Sporting Goods pick up three more reels and two perfect rods. Turn towards home.

Two Wal-marts and 5 hours total later I have the braided line I love and it's home by 5:30pm.  Start rigging all seven poles, make dinner for the family, clean fish, finish rigging and load up the truck.  It's 9:49pm and I'm getting up at 2am.  Wow what a prep day.  I'm fried but fired up.

3 hours until lines in:

Sure enough I woke up at 2am and lightning struck, thunder shook the house, and a deluge of rain began.  Ugghhh.  But with a chuckle I made coffee, breakfast, and ran the radar.  Maybe just maybe a break in the rain - hope springs eternal.

The new fishing buddy showed up, the old fishing buddy texted he was ready and we met up and rolled down the bayou with hope in our hearts and lightning in our eyes.

We delayed our launch a bit after talking to a half dozen kayakers at the nearby gas station known as "Tee Pops" but when a dozen more rolled in we rolled out!  Unloaded the boats and sure nuff got a break in the storm and out we paddled into the night.  We decided to get to our red ponds first since redfish seemed to be the hardest to produce.

My morning started out with 3 of these.  Just too small but it was a good start.  Don't let the picture fool you it had already been raining hard and the sun was not out it was just this glaring grey kind of day.  Well then there was the sullen, wet, grey kind of day too:

This upgrade didn't come a moment too soon as the sky's let loose and the weather turned ugly ^.

I kept trying to upgrade but I just couldn't seem to make it happen.  I pray a lot during tournaments but I was really praying hard today.  "Lord keep us all safe.  Lord help me find a better fish.  Lord help me stay patient".  A little after this shot I hooked up with the perfect fish.  I saw his big ol' tail sticking out of the water and I threw at him twice then bam he was on and he felt perfect.  But right at the boat the lure comes shooting past my face.  Argghhhh the feeling of defeat.  As I reeled in the slack I retrieved my spoon to find a big fish scale on it.  Chances are I never had this fish in the mouth but snagged his gill plate and it was just a matter of time before he got off.

I made the call and we took off to look for trout and flounder.  At first it was "nothing". I mean "panic inducing nothing" but I just kept working south in the lake along a series of reefs and then the surprise of a hard thump and a diving lure.  I knew it immediately the "money fish" - a flounder.  Near panic sets in because I've lost two flounder for money in 9 years and last year was my first slam in 8 attempts.  I knew the issues with landing flounder.

This one had nailed the nightreuse Vortex Shad and it was coming all the way in.  By this time the waves were up and I was profiled to them so it was a dicey fight:

I hate to admit it but I'm thinking - I just might win this thing.  These conditions and I've got an OK red and a flounder?  Surely everyone in the world is struggling today....  Right?  I kill that flounder before I try to put him in the bag.  No losing this one!  But I almost flip as a motor boat does a doughnut 100 ft away and throws a 2 foot wave my way.  Wow you just never know.

Well an hour later and still no trout.  Me scared?  You bet I was!  I was calling around and the reports were ominous.  Some slams already caught and Steve "Gnatless" Lessard just hauled in a huge trout.  I'm worried as all get out so I make a move and as I'm going south there goes Lessard north "banging the bank" for flounder.

Meanwhile I'm wallowing a bit in the rough seas - after a near flip out of the boat with the flounder I'm pretty sure I've taken on water.  How much?  I don't know but a look at the rear end of my kayak and I realize I've got some trouble.  Thankfully with the Ride 135 I can move my seat far forward and the boat stabilizes and I move lumberously on to my next location (I would later discover 2 gallons of water inside - a blog for another day).

An hour goes by no trout.  You're kidding me?  Birds go by no trout.  The wind is howling out of the Southeast and I can't paddle forward - and no trout.  I'm physically breaking down.  Blisters on my hands, cramps in my arms.  I switch to a Purple Haze Vortex Shad and bam trout.  12.5 inches never looked so good.  I slump back in my seat and take a deep breath.  Drop anchor dial a friend and celebrate.

Messed up the lure order.  Purple for trout.  Black Spoon for Red.  Nightreuse for flounder.

Last year I placed in the top 5 with a "micro-slam" barely over 6lbs this year I feel like it's much bigger (turns out only about .75 lbs bigger).  I'm thinking top 5 maybe top three with these brutal conditions.  The fishing buddies are trying hard but just can't close out the slam so we take off for the weigh in anyway.

I'm in line and I learn that between 15-20 slams were caught. Last year 5.  This year in thunderstorms and howling winds nearly 20 slams?  I guess that 280 plus anglers made a difference.  I just can't explain it.

I was worried all the way until they called out the third place flounder (mine was heavier) that was the first time I knew for sure I was in the slam money.  Then they called out 10th place and it was just a few tenths of a pound lighter.  I knew I was barely in the money I would hear my name next "No stranger to the winners table" (thanks Clayton that was a nice touch)!

1st Toby Armand 10.33 lbs Hobie Pro Angler 14 
2nd Doug Menefee 9.84 lbs Hobie Outback
3rd Michael Ethridge 9.76 lbs $1000 Backpacker Gift Card and $502 
4th Devon Beltz 9.23 lbs $1004
5th Mark Brasset 8.18 lbs $903
6th Cody Draggo 7.68 lbs $753
7th Benton Parrot 7.33 lbs $652
8th Tommy Eubanks 7.11 lbs $502
9th Bill Crawford 6.98 lbs $401
10th Jeff Robinson 6.82 lbs $301

Well this tired fella went home with a sense of satisfaction and weariness ready for some sleep and to get up and worship God with his church family the next day. Many people find gratitude for God in the good times but for me I see him most in the struggles.  Through all the trials of this weekend He was there bringing peace and joy.  I'm grateful for the strength to compete.  I'm grateful to the amazing fellowship I had all week with fishing buddies.  But most of all I'm grateful for my Lord and Savior - worship Sunday had a special deep sweetness to it.  As we sang "Sweet Adoration" (not as good as my wife's version) I was deeply moved to remember that when I struggle if I praise Him I find myself at peace.

Thanks to my sponsors Matrix Shad paid off big time, Scotty Fishing for the way I fish!, and The Backpacker not only for a great boat but a great event!  You guys are awesome.
Lastly here are all the pictures from the two weeks in no particular order:

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