Massey’s Outfitters (www.masseysoutfitters.com/) is a regional group of outdoor apparel and sporting goods stores that sponsors an annual catch, photo, and release (unless you want dinner) fishing tournament. Their annual “Fish Pics” tournament starts in January and runs through the end of November, and it is limited to the ~500 members of the Bayou Coast Kayak Fishing Club (bckfc.org). The tournament is based on scores of the length of four species (redfish, speckled sea trout, flounder, and bass) for the conventional tackle group. The fly tackle group has the same fish except for the flounder. Anglers take pictures of the fish along with a Fish Pics token in the photo (additionally, the fly anglers also must include the fly used in the photo) to score points, and it must also be clear from the photo that you are in your kayak. So, you must get the caught fish to be still for a photo while positioned on a measuring board in a kayak (not an easy feat, especially when the fish is large). The aggregate point score for the fish species determines the winner. If two anglers have the same score, then the sum of the lengths of their fish is the tie-breaker. If there is a tie for length, then the angler with the earliest submission of fish photos to the contest is the winner. The fly division of the tournament was a super close contest this year and I lucked out in that I turned in my fish a few days before another participant. It was that close. I was simply lucky to win this tournament, because the club has some excellent fly fishers. I mainly target redfish on the fly, and don’t try for speckled trout because they are usually of small size in the marsh where I fish. Most of the specks I catch on the fly are accidents. The marsh bass that I catch (again, usually accidentally while targeting redfish) are also petite. They are mostly about 12” long and don’t usually get much bigger; perhaps its competition from other fish, the salinity of the marsh, or other factors that tend to keep them on the small side.
In the spring I caught a 13.5” marsh bass while fishing near Reggio with my friend, Bob Russell. I was after some redfish, and the little bass stole the Waldner’s spoon fly away from them. I was about to toss the bass back in, but decided to take a photo before the release. That was the only fish I caught that day, and it became my bass entry.
A little later at Delacroix I was fishing a topwater fly called a “Pole Dancer” for redfish when a surprise 15.5” speckled trout attacked it. Again, I was about to ease the fish back into the water and then decided to take a quick photo before the release. It was lucky that I did, because it became my trout entry.
A good number of redfish bit my flies through the year, with my biggest being about 26.5”. Then in late October I bumped into a school of small “bull” redfish. This small bull redfish was my biggest of the year, and it measured 29.5”. Almost all of the redfish I caught this year came on the gold or purple/gold colored Waldner’s spoon fly, including the largest. I also caught a few on a topwater gurgler fly. I have become pretty proficient at tying gurglers, and it’s always satisfying to fool a fish with one of your own creations.
I was lucky to win this event because I have not been fly fishing and fishing from a kayak for very long. I also lack the encyclopedic knowledge of the Louisiana marshes displayed by the people who have been fishing here for generations. I need a map and they use memory. When I was in my teens, I started fishing for bass and bluegill sunfish (bream) with a fiberglass fly rod in the lakes and streams around Birmingham, Alabama. Eventually I had to put the fishing rods away when I went to school, and then I picked them back up when my daughters “grew up” and I had more time to start fishing again. I bought my first Hobie Outfitter kayak in 2007 and joined the Bayou Coast Kayak Fishing Club soon afterward. I’ve only been “semi-seriously” fly fishing for a few years, and have had some good help. The good people at Uptown Angler (www.uptownangler.com) helped me find the right equipment and flies. A couple of years ago I also joined the New Orleans Fly Fishers (NOFF, https://www.facebook.com/groups/929528073786638/ ) and that helped seal my future. Now I am tying some of my own flies, thanks to great teachers such as Joe Bandera, Ted Caballi, and the other members of the club.
As I spoke with the other (more skilled) anglers who participated in the Fish Pics tournament, I heard a number of stories of bigger fish than I had landed. But the fishers forgot a measuring board, the token, or some other technicality prevented the entry of the fish (I predict 2016 will be Kevin Andry’s turn to win this event). So, somehow the combination of not so good luck for other fly anglers and my chance catches of a small bass and speckled trout plus a decent redfish on the right day resulted in a first place finish. The prize for winning this event was a Native Slayer 14.5 kayak. I’m really pleased to get this kayak for a number of reasons. The chief reason is that marsh ponds I like to fish in the summer become choked with aquatic vegetation, and my Hobie Outback kayak with its pedal propulsion system and rudder becomes pretty useless under these conditions. So now I’ll be able to use the Slayer to “fish the weeds” of summer in the marsh ponds. My dog likes to come fishing with me when the weather is not too hot or sunny, and she can ride in the front well of the Slayer while I fish. I like to fly fish, and the deck on the Slayer is very “clean” and free of things that will catch the fly line. It will also be easy to stand up, spot a redfish, and sight cast a fly in the Slayer. Its long, thinner profile should make it a pleasure to paddle, and I think my wife wants to use it on Bayou St. John. I’m looking forward to writing a report on the functionality of this kayak. So, thanks to Massey’s Outfitters for hosting the tournament and providing such a nice prize. I also need to mention that my buddy Tommy Eubanks was the winner of the conventional tackle division of this tournament (with fish about twice the size of the ones I caught) and he went home with a nice Jackson kayak from Massey’s.