Friday morning floated in on a hazy fog while most folks in Bayou Dularge were sawing logs and dreaming sweet dreams. Not so for the likes of 16, two-man teams of redfish anglers who tossed and turned in anticipation of finding that perfect two-day duo of redfish that would put them in the running during this past weekend’s HT Redfish Cup 2012 pre-qualifying tournament.
Tournament Director Pat Malone, announced each team over the PA system, and one by one, they left the dock and headed out to seek their fishing fortunes. They had until 3 p.m. to find their best two fish of the day.
The daily creel limit for reds in Louisiana is five fish: four fish between 16 inches to 27 inches, and just one fish 27 inches or longer. The challenge in this series was to catch two reds under 27 inches, packing the most pounds per inch, and to keep them alive until the weigh-in.
Many of the two-man teams arrived earlier in the week to pre-fish local waters before this elite fishing tournament began. Camp Dularge had the good fortune of hosting Joe Peddy and Rob Schumske, two talented anglers from Texas.
While hiring a guide to show you local waters is not against the series rules, these two grassroots fishermen wanted to earn their hooks the hard way. They arrived from Houston and Beaumont on Wednesday, hoping to start scouting right away. What they did not anticipate was the cold front that awaited them, blown in on 30 mph winds.
In spite of the gales, they launched their Majek and beat the banks for those bronze beauties. Eyes watering, boat rocking, and reds not biting, they soon called it a day and headed back to camp to form their attack plan for scouting on Thursday.
Thursday’s pre-fishing was very productive, but telling you where they ended up finding fish would be akin to a banker telling a robber the combination to the safe. In other words, it ain’t happening. Suffice it to say, they found reds and plenty of them. By the end of the day, they felt the fishing gods smiling down on them, confident they would return to that spot on Friday, Day 1 of the competition.
Rob and Joe explained that the HT Redfish Cup series is by invitation only. Some of the entrants were already pre-qualified to fish this highly-competitive series in 2012, so they were participating in hopes of winning back some of their entry fees. Others, like Rob and Joe, were fishing this tournament in order to make the Top 5, thereby qualifying to fish the four-tournament series in 2012, to the tune of a $10,000 entry fee and first-place purse of about $25,000.
The tricky part comes in when anglers catch big fat reds that push the 27-inch mark on the ruler. As two unlucky anglers found out this weekend, that can be risky business. The fish can “relax” between your live well and the judge’s measuring tape, adding a mere eighth of an inch, disqualifying the fish.
Bottom line: The whole point is to bring in (alive and flipping) two reds, just under 27 inches, that are as fat and heavy as they can be–on both days. The team with the heaviest total two-day weight takes home some prize money. Second and third on the Leader Board also received cash prizes.
But Joe and Rob had their eyes on a different prize–they just wanted to land a spot in the Top 5 on the Leader Board by the end of day two. Their first day looked promising, as they had their two best fish and were back at the landing around noon. The rules state that one team member must be on the boat at all times, so they enjoyed some Louisiana sunshine while waiting.
As seen in the following photos, the weigh-in process was impressive, with aerated tanks for the fish, digital computer scales, and large screen views of the electronic Leader Board.
Competition was tight, with mere tenths of a pound bumping teams down a notch on the Leader Board. However, Rob and Joe held their own with some of the best red fishermen around. At the end of Day 1, they were sixth on the board with two fat reds weighing in at 15.18 pounds and every confidence they would return to the same spot on Day 2 with similar results.
After photo ops, the redfish were returned to the water. In two days, all the fish brought in amazingly survived the process and were returned to the water. All the fish swam away, with not one “floater” in the bunch.
Back at the camp Friday night, Joe and Rob hashed and rehashed the day’s events with fellow Texas fishermen Brad White (Team Budweiser) and Richard Watson. The talked lures, techniques, location, presentation, measurements, and tails.
Tournament rules state that no fish can have a mutilated tail. One angler challenged that rule by bringing in a red with a tail that appeared partially bitten off. Because the tail can be the nail in the coffin for an over-zealous angler, it must be almost perfect in order for the fish to qualify. No part of the tail can go past the 27-inch mark, and less-than-honest anglers have been known to cheat by clipping them off just to be sure. Hence, the reason for the rule.
Joe and Rob did, indeed, return to the same honey hole on Day 2, and while the fish were not as plentiful, it is the quality of the fish that counts. They brought in another pair of fatties, proving that dedication and perseverance do pay off in the world of fishing.
The proof is on the screen. There they are, right in spot number five. Even though some of the fish weights were higher then theirs on the above board, that just means those anglers caught smaller fish the day before. Remember, rankings are based on a two-day total weight.
When I asked Joe and Rob about their approach to fishing a tourney like this, they said they like to be conservative the first day and to push the envelope on the second day. Pushing the envelope means bringing in a fish that is as close to that 27-inch mark as possible without going over.
Whatever their strategy, it paid off for them big time down on Bayou Dularge-Theriot, Louisiana and earned them not only the respect of the other anglers but also a spot in the HT Redfish 2012 series of tournaments, bragging rights, and fishing stories to share for days to come.
Although many of you have seen this all before in big bass tournaments, not all of us have been to one. So for those of you who have never seen this very sophisticated type of fishing competition, I hope you have a new appreciation for the sport and those who participate. I know I certainly do.