GRAND ISLE — It’s rodeo time, but nobody here needs to say that too loudly.
The experience of driving down congested La. 1 tells you something big is getting ready to happen on Louisiana’s only inhabited barrier island.
Boat-towing vehicles of all sizes filled Louisiana’s longest state highway Wednesday, and most appeared to target Thursday’s crack-of-dawn opening of the nation’s oldest competitive fishing competition, the International Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo.
The rodeo’s 90th renewal will be celebrated through Saturday.
“Things are going to get wild here in the next three days,” Baton Rouge charter skipper Danny Wray said Wednesday after heading up a crew of kayakers showing up to set the stage for another in a growing line of popular fishing events, the Aug. 18 Ride the Bull Extreme Kayak Fishing Tournament.
“I really want to go after tarpon this weekend. I have a (guided) trip Thursday, but I plan to go after them Friday,” Wray said.
Early-week reports coming from the West Delta area were that tarpon were rolling in and taking advantage of a vast array of food available there, namely rafts of mullet and huge schools of menhaden. West Delta is off the mouth of the Mississippi River, and the big silver-king tarpon seem to favor water running 40-60 feet deep.
Another report making its way around Bridge Side Marina at the foot of the new Grand Isle bridge was a man using live croaker and fishing for speckled trout around a rig in the Sandy Point area hooked a tarpon estimated at 100 pounds when he drifted the live croaker into the waters under an oil platform. Sandy Point is off the Mississippi River, too, but north of West Delta.
“That’s why things could get wild here,” rodeo fisherman Sandy Miller said. “Yes, the Grand Isle (rodeo) is a big party, but when the tarpon are around, the partying has to wait, or at least delayed a little while. We’re going after them tomorrow, and if we don’t catch them, we’ll be in a spot to go after some of the big lemonfish (cobia) that’s been hanging around the rigs from here (Grand Isle) and lots of rigs to the east and west.
“Either we’re going to come home with a prize (tarpon) or something good to eat. We don’t lose either way,” Miller said.
But if the forecast of light winds and near-calm seas is to prevail for the rodeo’s three-day run, conditions will have to change.
Scott Simoneaux was out Wednesday and said “predictions of flat seas was a little off. It wasn’t flat. There were some good rollers out there, and some dirty water.”
Simoneaux confirmed Miller’s cobia statement.
“We caught a few speckled trout and decided to head offshore,” Simoneaux said. “We hit a rig and there were six lemonfish there and they looked like they were stacked like cord wood.
“The first one we saw was about 65 pounds and I saw him come up, and mouth the catfish one of the guys had on. He went down, so I took out a jig and dropped it over and caught a 50-pounder and the other fish followed it up to the boat, including the 65-pounder.”
Still, it’s the “dirty water” that concerns most coastal fishermen: Light westerly winds have been blowing along the Central Coast since late last week when a high pressure system moved into the Gulf of Mexico. Westerly winds usually present anglers with less-than-clear-water conditions for several days.
And the sporadic hard showers that rise over coastal waters in the early afternoons haven’t helped. A strong shower dumped right at half-inch of rain across the western end of the island Wednesday.
“It just means it’s a little harder finding the fish,” Wray said after the last handful of speckled trout trips. “We’re finding fish, but one day you find them off Elmer’s Island (west of Grand Isle), and the next day along the Fourchon beaches (still farther west near Belle Pass). But when you go back to those same spots the next day, the fish aren’t there.”
He said the same thing is happening in areas east of Grand Isle, namely in the Four Bayous Pass area.
“It just means we have to run, and maybe keep running, until we find where the fish are that day,” Wray said. “That doesn’t mean we’re not catching fish because we are. You just have to have several spots to run to and hope you find fish before it gets too hot.”
Live bait continues to rule supreme, and live croaker seem to be the top choice for running the beaches and jetties and rock piles off the beaches. Other reports Wednesday indicated live shrimp is best used under a cork when hitting sandbars and reefs in the bays behind the barrier islands.