The Reel Deal: Paddle Palooza XI
Leopard reds, Cajun-spicy slams, an amazing fish fry and $20,000 in prizes
By Chris Holmes
Ten years and 11 tournaments later, Paddle Palooza XI proves that kayak tournaments in south Louisiana are the real deal. In early 2005, a group of fledgling paddle fishermen found themselves connected by the allure of the Louisiana marsh and the solitary thrill of battling spotted sea trout, redfish and flounder from self-powered craft.
Many of these guys and girls had never personally met. They came together through the power of the internet and the creation of a "Louisiana-Cajun Country" topic on the kayakfishingstuff.com forum in early 2005. Thrilled to learn there were others out there with the same affliction, it didn't take long for them to start plotting group trips and even a tournament.
Interest quickly grew and seeds were sown for the first event with the suggested name of "Yakapalooza." Well, forums were no different back then and someone quickly pointed out that the name was pretty exclusive and showed no love to those paddling pirogues and canoes for their fishing adventures. With a little discussion, "Paddlepalooza" was set in motion.
The mishmash group went all-in and planned the first event. No Louisiana fishing tournament could be held without food, fun and prizes so 25 participants coughed up five bucks for a winner-take-all format and one of the guys fed the group with redfish, blackened on a piece of iron. All had fun. So much fun in fact that they held another one later that same year.
Fast forward a decade and some of these same guys are still at it. From that initial group, the Bayou Coast Kayak Fishing Club was formed and Paddlepalooza continues as Louisiana's oldest kayak fishing tournament.
This year saw nearly 250 participants and all told, the combination of kayaks, cash, charitable donations and raffle prizes given out were worth over $20,000.
Taking top honors was Jeff Breaux whose three-fish Cajun Slam (trout, red and flounder) weighed in at 10.91 pounds. Jeff took home a nice trophy and a Hobie Pro Angler 14 valued at $3,000.
The final leader board was littered with many of the usual suspects including some of those original PP I participants. However, many newcomers like first-timer Breaux proved that winning kayak tournaments requires a mix of skills and luck.
Flounder were elusive and gave even the top anglers the slip. Only six flounder found their way to the scale and those that captured them found themselves in the money. The trout and reds did their part and all categories were easily filled. Justin Pisani topped out the slot redfish category (27 inch maximum) with a 7.27 pound beast and Fred Trahan had the largest spotted sea trout at 3.72 pounds.
The "Leopard Red" category which awards a kayak to the angler that catches the redfish with the most spots is virtually pure luck. Redfish normally have one spot on each side of their tails, but it is not uncommon for them to have more. While it does take skill to catch any redfish, there is obviously no way to specifically target multi-spotted reds. Jason Powers logged-in a red that had an impressive total of 17 spots. Another angler also had one with 17, but Jason's earlier weigh-in time broke the tie.
Carrying on the tradition of food and fun, professional fish cleaners filleted scores of fish while club volunteers fried them up to crispy perfection. After the meal, the awards presentation and raffle lasted well into the evening. What started as the internet musings of a few pioneer paddle craft fishermen has become a solid tradition amongst the great fishing rodeos of Louisiana. South Louisiana is known for its great food, great fishing and unending hospitality. Fishing Paddlepalooza ensures a heaping helping of all.