If you want to know how to catch the biggest fish at Minimalist Challenge 2015, it’s “Go Big Or Go Home.”
The decision was made to move Minimalist Challenge 2015 to a new location again this year. Leeville – not familiar turf for me. After my first two scouting trips I couldn’t say I was very excited. We found a few reds but no trout and no flounder. But between us, my fishing buddy and I have been in the money around 6 of the 8 years it’s been held. So the dream team was ready to go:
Every year we make our game plan and this year it was a strange one. We were going to start together with the other 100 anglers a the launch, but then split up and fish miles away from each other. This turned out to be a decision that would bring very different results for two hopeful anglers.
My plan was to go to the only turf I knew in the area and hope that a little knowledge could carry me over the top during what had been tough fishing conditions.
I left the good camera at home (not sure why) so some of these shots are less than ideal but here is a shot with the scenery and the new AT Oracle Angler I picked it up at the Backpacker in Baton Rouge.
My day began with a significant paddle to my first fishing spot. I can tell you I was a little nervous watching one of the greatest names in South Louisiana fishing going down the bayou in front of me. Choupique (as he’s known in kayaking circles) has wracked up an impressive string of tournament victories but he turned left when I turned right; whew!
So I settled in my spot as the sun came up and it wasn’t long before I started seeing reds. Big reds. How big? The first fish I cast at, I threw at him three times before I hooked up. I normally throw about 30″ in front of the tail. Well, when I got him close to the boat this fish was snagged in the dorsal fin about 6 inches behind his head! After about 20 minutes of being drug around I was able to shake him loose.
A few more fish in this area were clearly the same size and clearly not interested in my baits (picture of lures can be seen here). I at one point saw a tail waiving in the air that was much larger than my outstretched hand.
So I moved into the marsh (with a promise to myself to come back when I could see better). It’s counter intuitive to look for fish in shallow water when its cold but that’s where the redfish will often be. I wish I had taken a picture but if you imagined an area about the size of your living room that’s how big the space was where my first action or inaction would take place.. I came around a bend into a favorite spot and stood up. There’s a school of reds! I mean like 9 of them in 18″ of water. Now water refraction is a funny thing. These reds looked about 24″ but would turn out to be much different but nearly 10 (felt like 20) casts later, nothing. I ran the bait by their nose; I ran it over their backs; I hit one in the lips with it. It didn’t spook them nor did it interest them. I changed colors three times and threw a topwater. Nothing. It was as if my lures were invisible.
So, I pick the ugliest brightest bait in my pack. The “Electric Chicken”. Sure, this looks like something that fish eat every day! Still no reaction. I sat down and thought – “I’m outta here”. Then I thought, “Well there’s one last thing I haven’t tried”. Deadsticking. You just throw the bait out and let it sit. Wiggle it just a bit. I could see the whole thing as it looked like a piece of bubble gum. He sucked it in – whoah nelly hold on!
The next one was the same story. It was like he was reaching down to chew on some bubble gum (exactly what it looked like) and it was on. I didn’t take a picture this time because you don’t mess with losing a tournament fish. It’s a powerful rush to realize this fish might be the one and all you want to do is get him in the bag and zip it closed. This one measured exactly 27″ but with 6 hours to weigh in maybe just maybe….
I pulled one more fish out of this small hole. This one was 23 inches. 3 more fish was all I needed. 9:30 am and things were looking up. Then it happened again, and again:
Bull red after bull red after bull red. I caught 9 on the day and passed up about 6 more without even casting at them. I can’t tell you how tired, and frustrated I was getting and I was crushing them!
By this time, I’ve returned to my starting point I’ve caught two more monster fish (the last above is one of them). I try one more time:
And again I can’t even lift him into the picture I’m so exhausted. Well I look at my watch and I’ve got 45 minutes to get to the launch – let’s go! The whole way there I’m enjoying the weather, the wind and tide are at my back and I start to realize I’m cutting it close. The clock is running out and I’ve got a big fish in the bag. This paddle was a lot longer than I realized but I pull in with 7 minutes to spare and walk into the line.
Two big fish hit the ruler – they’re too big (all fish must be in the slot between 16 and 27 inches). I’m getting pretty excited but have no idea of the actual weight of the fish. We hit the weigh station and I pull out the fish (gasps). As it slides into the official position silence settles in (good fish is murmured in the background). The tail is pinched and it is 26.5 inches. Now to the scale…..
8.55lbs! Fist pump – personal best. If nothing else I have that but I’ve never seen a better weight at a kayak tournament. And it would prove to be enough as I took home the big fish prize for the tournament and still pulled a 10th place finish with only two fish. Team Backpacker had a good showing with fellow member Clayton Shilling placing 2nd – but that’s his story!
Bill Crawford has previously served as the Wilderness Systems Fishing Ambassador and currently fishes for the Backpacker Fishing Team.