When the weighmasters for the annual Catholic High Alumni Fishing Rodeo weighed the last entry shortly after 6 p.m. Saturday at Port Fourchon Marina, the curtain came down on the biggest-ever Baton Rouge-based saltwater event.
More than 400 entered, and most of the rookies found out what most of the veterans know: It’s hard to beat the Valenciano family when it comes to catching mangrove snapper, and longtime friends David Olinde and Brad Zito pick the right teammates when it comes to taking home the top prize in the rodeo’s Speckled Trout Calcutta.
Papa Rudy Valenciano and sons Marcus and Eric claimed their sixth straight calcutta for mangrove snapper, a competition in which teams bring their top five mangroves to the scale. This year’s haul came close to hitting 55 pounds, just 12 ounces better than the field.
And it came after Papa spent rodeo eve (Thursday) in the emergency room in an up-the-bayou hospital. A CAT scan showed no damage after he slipped on the launching ramp when they were retrieving their boat after a scouting trip.
“I really have to give all the credit to Marcus and Eric. They did all the work. My back hurt and I wasn’t my usual self,” Papa Rudy said. “It looks like I taught them well.”
As soon as his sons stopped belly-laughing at their dad’s comments, Marcus, the older of the two, said Friday turned out to be their best day, a trip that included a solid leaderboard cobia and produced all five of the mangroves they weighed the following day.
“We found the fish and had a good catch Friday, but we don’t know what happened (Saturday),” Marcus said. “We really struggled. Maybe it was the tide, the full moon. The current was a little stronger.”
The father and sons have no big secrets, excect they admit they work hard, use thawed pogeys, meticulously hide the hooks in the bait and are particular about presentation.
Unlike most mangrove fishermen, Rudy said they don’t use lots of chum to lure the secretive mangroves from the protection of oil platforms.
“Chum brings sharks, and that’s something we don’t want to fool with,” Rudy said.
Eric Valenciano said they were in the Grand Isle 48 Block, the designation for that offshore oil field off the Grand Isle coast, and said water depths were near 100 feet.
While the mangrove issue wasn’t decided until the rodeo’s last minutes, Olinde and Zito left no doubt their speckled trout catch would stand in that five-trout calcutta.
Fishing with a Venice guide Friday, Zito said it was the strangest on-the-water day he’s had in years.
“We’re happy with the results,” Zito said after their five heaviest trout nearly hit the 25-pound mark. “But all these big fish came in a half hour, and when they turned on, they turned on.”
There was more to the strange-but-true adventure: Most big-trout hunters heading to the mouth of the Mississippi River tote live croakers, the bigger the better to seek giant yellowmouth trout.
“Not (Friday),” Zito said. “We were using shrimp, small shrimp, maybe 40-50 count shrimp. Every one of those big fish are the small shrimp. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Olinde amen-ed to Zito’s report, adding, “somehow we knew the fish were there, but it was weird because the places where we caught big fish Thursday, then went back Friday and didn’t find a fish, not a bite, not a nibble. The wind was pushing in water, and the (Mississippi) river was pushing water out and the tide was rising hard, and the fish either moved or just didn’t want to bite.
“Like Brad said, we caught all those fish in 30 minutes,” Olinde said. “It was fast and furious and you hardly ever see something like that no matter how long you’ve been fishing.”
After three young anglers caught 5-pounders during Friday’s practice day, it was Austin Wilbert who stole the show over the weekend in the Denham Springs Junior Bassmasters on Lake Concordia. His two-day, 10-bass total weighed out at 22.53 pounds.
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