Giant blue marlin steals show at Tarpon Rodeo

GRAND ISLE — In any other year, almost any other time in the 92-year history of the Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo, David Moran would have had the spotlight.

Any other year but this year.

Moran, the Pride angler, dominated the rodeo’s Shoreline Division. His catch in the bluefish, cobia, king mackerel and mangrove snapper categories, totaled 11 points in the rodeo’s score sheet and left this island’s biggest summertime event with one of three Best All-Around Fisherman awards.

But this was not the year. Not the time, not when Lafayette’s 33-year-old Ben Bernard told his story of a 13-hour battle with a massive blue marlin, nor the day when Kevin Hatcher of Donaldsonville established a rodeo record with a giant 115-pound, 1-ounce Warsaw grouper.

The procession of the blue marlin to the scales was something akin to Mardi Gras day crowds jamming Canal Street in New Orleans to get a wave from the King of Rex.

Hundreds of onlookers jammed the Sand Dollar Marina weigh station to get a glimpse of the magnificent rodeo catch.

And, for that moment, Bernard was the king of the rodeo. After a 10-minute wait for a new scale that could handle his fish, the total went up. His memory-maker weighed 705 pounds, 4 ounces, just short of 17 pounds shy of the 723-pound rodeo record.

“I’m a little disappointed about the record, but excited about catching that fish,” Bernard said. “It belongs to the crew, to everybody on that boat. You can’t catch a fish like that alone.”

There were five others on the “Whoo Dat” when the billfish took what Bernard called “a secret bait” trolled in the wake of the boat near 1 p.m. Friday afternoon.

“You dream about catching a fish like this, and you don’t think it will ever happen,” Bernard said.

There was more, much more to his story.

The battle with the once-in-a-lifetime trophy lasted more than 13 hours.

“We didn’t get the fish to the boat until about 2:30 a.m. (Saturday). I felt great at first, but 10 hours into the fight everything on my body was hurting. But I knew I still had a crew behind me. We didn’t get the fish into the boat until about 3:30 (a.m.) and it was a relief.

“What a great fish. What a great rodeo, but I’m still exhausted,” Bernard said before all within earshot gave him a round of applause.

The rodeo was more than Bernard’s marlin: Baton Rouge area anglers dominated the awards ceremony.

Despite Bernard’s impressive catch, Addis’ Toby Berthelot took home the Best All-Around Fisherman Award in the Big Game Division. Berthelot won the blackfin tuna category and had a second-place wahoo. He also had a No. 1 bonito.

After that, Capital City area fishermen earned eight other first-place trophies.

The list included St. Amant’s Jordan Madere (37-3 dolphin) and Jason Scanlan (20-9 wahoo), Moran’s 45-7 cobia and 11-2 mangrove snapper, Baton Rougean Gregory Wynn (4-8 Spanish mackerel), Port Allen’s Austin Rivault (6-2 sheepshead), Mike Mitchell from Head of Island (6-4 speckled trout) and Donaldsonville’s Joey Latino (1-11 white trout).

Despite violent weather conditions that opened the rodeo, closed its second day and sent light rain over Grand Isle for most of Saturday’s final day, anglers rewrote 11 leader board categories during the rodeo’s final two hours.

“It started slow, but we weighed a lot of fish, and that blue marlin was spectacular,” rodeo weighmaster Marty Bourgeois said. “We set one record and had numerous fishermen make the board. It was a successful rodeo.”