Anglers cast off in garfish rodeo

MAUREPAS — Bubba Massa kicked back with a beer in his hand Sunday and waited patiently for the winners of the Garfish Rodeo Livingston Parish Invitational to be announced.

The 76-year-old has been fishing for 28 years and has won previous garfish rodeos, including third place in last year’s competition.

The rodeo began at noon Saturday and ended at noon Sunday with 42 boats signed up for the event. Participants fished the waters of lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain as well as the Tickfaw, Amite and Blind rivers.

Massa, who said he stopped fishing at 9 a.m. on Sunday, caught 11 garfish, four catfish and a sailfish — an ocean fish that Massa said he believes was let in with the recent opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway gates.

“There’s sharks out there, and it’s hot too,” Massa said.

This year marked the first time Eddie and Sandra Balfantz, who own Black Lake Club Bait and Tackle, hosted the event.

A similar event is traditionally held each year at the Blind River Bar.

However, this year both the Balfantzes and the owners of the Blind River Bar held a garfish rodeo and both of them were held at the same time — Saturday and Sunday.

With the recent sale of the Blind River Bar, the Balfantzes said they believed the fate of the Garfish Rodeo Livingston Parish Invitational might be in jeopardy.

“We didn’t want it to be a dying tradition,” Sandra Balfantz said.

The annual event was first held at Hilltop Inn more than 25 years ago.

Participants were required to pay a $25 per person entry fee, and an additional $5 per boat for the “trash fish,” fish that can be caught and weighed in addition to the allotted garfish.

Cash prizes were awarded for first and second place for the highest total weight of 10 garfish as well as a prize for the biggest gar.

Eddie Balfantz said garfish are found in brackish and marine waters. They live close to the surface and have a migratory pattern similar to a mackerel. The garfish is a long and slender fish, he said.

Kevin Picou, of Maurepas, and his partner, Justin Vicknair, pulled in a 66-pound garfish but the two said they didn’t believe it would be enough to garner a top prize.

“Ninety-nine is the biggest so far,” weight master Jimmy Lormand said.

George Martinez, who came in first place the past three years, said, “There wasn’t many gar and bait was hard to get.”

It was Ashley DeSoto’s second garfish rodeo.

“I’ve still got sea legs,” said DeSoto, of Frost. “You don’t get much sleep (on the boat).”

While Marty Graham and his son, Cody, 12, also of Frost, were more interested in spending the night fishing, DeSoto said she enjoyed watching the sky.

“The stars just light up the lake,” she said. “To watch the sunset and then the sunrise; money can’t even pay for that.”

After the final weigh-in, participants sat around Black Lake Club and enjoyed their catch: garfish. In addition to free pastalaya and jambalaya, free fried garfish balls were served to order.

Proceeds from the event will be donated to the Maurepas American Legion Hall, Eddie Balfantz said.

The winners for the biggest gar were Joey and Jessie Fontenot. Their catch weighed 99 pounds, Sandra Balfantz said.

The Fontenots also won first place for the highest total weight, bringing in a catch — 10 gar — weighing 482 pounds.