Louisiana Tournaments and a Revitalized Port Eads

Photo courtesy Wikipedia.com

Photo courtesy Wikipedia.com

This week was too grand to let all the hubbub surrounding the red snapper issue bring down Louisiana’s fishermen.

The annual Grand Isle Speckled Trout Rodeo opens the Memorial Day Weekend. This most unique format brings the top trout anglers along our Central Coast to Bridge Side Marina on Grand Isle for three days of near non-stop fishing action.

While there are other species categories, speckled trout is king. There are eight places daily for specks. The overall winner is determined by the heaviest trout for each fisherman for each day. The angler with the heaviest total three-day catch is the winner.

That guy or gal – yes, there was a year when a woman outclassed hundreds of men – earns the title of Louisiana Master Speckled Trout Angler for the next 12 months.

And, around here, that’s one grand accomplishment.

There’s more – a whole lot more.

Memorial Day Weekend is the kickoff for the 101-day, summer-long Statewide Tournament and Angler’s Rodeo – The S.T.A.R. – sponsored by CCA-Louisiana but no longer confined to Louisiana waters because there are categories for Mississippi fishermen, too.

It takes CCA membership and a $25 fee to be able to enter any of a dozen categories, the biggest of which is “tagged redfish,” wherein 50 specially tagged redfish are spread out across the state’s coast. Catch the first tagged redfish and you win a 2014 Chevy pickup, and the next nine catching one of these special fish wins a fully rigged bay boat

That’s just the start: While Louisiana has four dozen more saltwater rodeos and big-time bass-tournament fundraisers in coastal waters between now and October, we lack in the big-money bluewater events that dominate the Mississippi-Alabama-Florida Panhandle corridor.

Yes, we have some money in the ever-growing Oilman’s Series, but our state’s elected officials haven’t seen the wisdom in granting tax relief to help any and all interested in building, then operating, the grand marinas it takes to stage high-dollar offshore events.

Plaquemines Parish (our “county” that takes in all the lower Mississippi River Delta lands, marshes and waters) obtained federal funds in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster and resurrected Port Eads.

Don’t know the place?

Few places along the northern Gulf of Mexico rival what Port Eads meant to bluewater fishing.

porteadsThe place along the western shoreline of the Mississippi River’s South Pass was, first, the site, in the 1800s, of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Read Range Light Station, a heralded point a couple of miles from the mouth of our nation’s mightiest river. Because of its high ground, the site became a stopping-off point for the first real bluewater adventures across the northern Gulf.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, a handful of World War II veterans joined older boat designers like the late and famous Andrew Higgins and other New Orleans and south Louisiana boat builders who built the famed PT boats and other craft that serviced the increasingly important offshore oil and gas industry. (An Aside: You remember Higgins for the “Higgins Boat,” the landing craft used to storm European and Pacific theaters beaches.)

What happened was these men cut the 80-foot long PT boats and other wooden-hulled craft to sizes they could use to venture into offshore waters.

Many of these men had served our country chasing Germany’s U-Boats in the Gulf of Mexico and knew of the 1,500-, 2,000 and 3,000-foot depths within running distance of the mouth of the river, and knew about the abundance of species like blue marlin, white marlin, sailfish, wahoo and bull dolphin, including three tuna species.

They knew there were billfish “granders” patrolling those depths, and some were hooked back then, but they lacked the beefy tackle needed to battle fish like that. And these men made Port Eads their summertime home away from home. Stationing there meant saving lots of miles and time running the river from and to Venice, the last stop at the end of Louisiana’s Highway 23.

The New Orleans Big Game Fishing Club, and not many years later, the Baton Rouge Big Game Fishing Club, made their headquarters at Port Eads. The bonus was that Port Eads also opened up trips for truly giant speckled trout, 40-pound plus redfish and bass fishing that rivaled any riverine system in the country. Moreover, Port Eads was in the vanguard of the “blast and cast” trips, an adventure that afforded outdoorsmen from around the world to take limit of ducks and bountiful fishing catches in the late fall and winter months.

With near $14 million, the Port Eads Commission has reclaimed this outpost and lured High Adventure from Atlanta to operate its two lodges and the 48 beds in them, a new full-service restaurant/bar, fuel dock and a ship store.

It’s something south Louisiana has needed for a long, long time, and it’s something we’ve missed since Katrina nearly wiped it off the map in 2005.

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Joe Macaluso has covered the outdoors in South Louisiana for more than 40 years and has served as the outdoors editor for The Advocate in Baton Rouge since the early 1990s. He is a long-time member of the Louisiana Outdoor Writer’s Association and is a past recipient of the association’s Arthur Van Pelt Award for lifetime achievement in conservation. He has also been honored for his coverage of college football and baseball before dedicating his career almost entirely to covering the outdoors.

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