July is gone, and that means Louisiana big-time saltwater fishing rodeos are in the rearview mirror for another year.
Don’t take that to mean fishing competition is over. Not so.
Ahead in August is the increasingly popular Ride the Bull, a paddlecraft-only event out of Grand Isle that’s jumped from barely 40 kayakers and canoeing fishermen to more than 400 in 2013. This year, 500 anglers from 15-plus states are expected to chase after bull redfish in Caminada Pass.
What’s more, there are at least 12 more, but smaller, rodeos with as many as 20 species categories – and some with freshwater species, too, to attract hundreds more anglers to the Louisiana coast during the next three months.
But let’s take a look at the last two: the International Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo and the Faux Pas Lodge Rodeo that went out of Venice Marina. Both are at the end of the world for Louisiana, the former at Grand Isle along Louisiana’s Central Coast, and the latter at Venice, the end of the southernmost road in the state and a place that’s listed among the top five fishing destinations in the world, according to a couple of renowned magazines.
With greater amberjack closed in state and federal waters and red snapper closed to recreational anglers in the EEZ, Louisiana fishermen have taken to other species to provide rodeo weigh station oohs and aahs.
After all, this is south Louisiana, a string of communities mixing all manners of ethnic groups over hundreds of years to use the rich bounty of the outdoors to come up with world-famous seafood dishes not found anywhere else on Mother Earth.
That didn’t happen because we dwelled on one finfish, one crustacean or one shellfish to provide food for out tables. We found a use for what was there, whether it be speckled trout, redfish, black drum, sheepshead (a species that made its way into restaurants with the name “bay snapper”), and who the hell in the world would have eaten crawfish (OK, crayfish) anywhere else but Louisiana where we made them a delicacy, not fish bait.
It’s not an oddity that with red snapper and AJs off the list, fishermen have pushed the limits again.
Yellowfin tuna, a species held in low regard by bluewater fishing 25 years ago, has become a highly prized target throughout the year, and especially on rodeo days.
Look at the Faux Pas top weights: A winning 140.3-pound yellowfin carried the three-day event, but the Nos. 2 and 3 tuna went 117.6 and 99.1 pounds.
Grand Isle Rodeo’s top three hit 87 pounds, 14 ounces, 84-2 and 81-12.
In the last quarter century is a new crop of bluewater-only charter skippers, guys like Faux Pas-winning Paradise Outfitters skippers Hunter Caballero and Scott Leger teams and fellow deep-sea guide Josh Bodenheimer have learned their lessons well from yellowfin-catching pioneers like Peace Marvel, Gary Bonanno, Mike Frenette and Myron Fisher.
Combine those lessons with modern electronics and, voila!, you have more folks coming up with more tuna recipes than can fill any cookbook, and it’s more than sushi. Heck, TRCP’s Chris Macaluso has a yellowfin dish that used Steen’s made-from-sugar cane molasses and would make any five-star restaurant proud.
There’s more: A handful of former red snapper catchers decided if they couldn’t pluck two apiece from the abundant red snapper showing up at oil platforms in 300-400 foot it was worth the effort to go another 20 miles into the Gulf of Mexico to search for tilefish that live in 1,000-foot depths.
And they’re catching them and coming up with more recipes to put this new mouth-watering fish on their tables.
There was another message Louisiana fishermen sent out to the world in these 2,000-plus angler events.
It’s that there are enough fish to take home – and tagging and releasing fish is, and has become, a way of life for those who run to bluewater.
A Faux Pas crew, Fog Cutter, won the tag and release category with three T&R blue marlin, and there were at least six blues, a handful of tuna and four tarpon on the T&R list at Grand Isle.
It’s been a great July.