In 2005, modern kayak fishing was just getting off the ground in Louisiana.
Like raccoons finding cat food, somehow kayak anglers just sniff each other out.
“Kayak fishing on the east and west coasts had already gained some notable degree of popularity, but very few people along the Gulf Coast were involved. We found each other through various Internet forums and held PaddlePalooza 1 in early 2005. The weather was terrible, the fishing was slow and the fuse was lit,” says Todd Lewis, known to his kayak friends as Yak-a-Lou.
Lewis, a now-retired Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries agent, is still an active member of the group. “That single event shaped kayak fishing in Louisiana into what it is today. We now have tournaments that host hundreds of participants and award tens of thousands of dollars in prizes and charitable contributions. We’re now viewed as a notable presence on the national kayak fishing scene,” he adds.
That diverse group of 20 or 25 guys and girls became the Bayou Coast Kayak Fishing Club, which is now more than 500 strong; and PaddlePalooza remains the group’s signature annual event. It’s now on number 14 in 13 years. They had so much fun at the first one that they couldn’t wait a year for number two.
Kayak fishing is the main attraction, but food and fellowship is the anchor. It’s no longer local. As many as 10 states have been represented. A huge kettle of pastalaya fuels the contestants at the captains’ meeting. The fishing in southeast Louisiana is good. So good, that no contingency plans are made for tournament day’s feast. There will be fried fish. It has never failed. The partying lasts well into the night. Occasionally, into the daylight.
Club members volunteer to help run the event. You can hear the keyboards’ clicking the instant the call for volunteers hits the forum. “Friday night cook with the Golden Girls,” writes Eric Stacey, a perennial volunteer whose forum handle is fitting: Wingman. The Golden Girls are a self-named group of guys that always handle the delicious Pastalaya. Others continue to chime in, offering their services for a multitude of tasks. This is the essence of PaddlePalooza.
Some contestants are more serious than others. The reports forum and Facebook page goes silent before the tournament. A seemingly innocuous post may reveal your hotspot, or worse yet, someone else’s. It’s not an easy tournament to win. Sure, a newbie may luck into a single big fish and go home in the money, but the richest prizes go to those that muster the heaviest “Cajun Slam” consisting of a speckled trout, slot-sized redfish and the ever-elusive flounder. With more than 200 anglers usually competing, you better have your game face on.
For Type B anglers, just being a part of the event is enough. They don’t pre-fish days or weeks in advance. No launching in the pitch black, hours before legal fishing time, nor will they be sprinting to the weigh-in line. However, they will eat, drink and talk kayak fishing with friends they have never met. That is perfectly OK. Excess in moderation.
PaddlePalooza has sparked lifelong friendships, promoted the sport and produced some of the best kayak fishermen in the country. “My love for kayak fishing has been greatly enhanced by the friendships I’ve made through BCKFC. PaddlePalooza is where it all began,” Lewis concludes.
The event’s fishing boundaries are along the east and west sides of the Highway 1 corridor from Galliano to Grand Isle. Due to logistics and sheer size of the event, the host site was moved this year to Bridge Side Marina in Grand Isle. With on-site lodging, live bait and a huge covered pavilion, Bridge Side provided ample space for a tournament that simply outgrew prior venues.
This year saw 237 total participants and some of the worst tournament weather possible. Although there was no rain, small craft warnings prevailed for several days. Crafts don’t come much smaller than kayaks. Despite high tides and dirty water, once again this group of guys and girls put fish on the cleaning table. Nearly half of the competitors weighed in fish.
However, as often happens, flounder proved to be scarce. A total of only six flounder were weighed in and only two competitors managed to combine their flounder with a trout and red for the coveted Cajun Slam. Jimmy Baker of Gulfport, Miss., won 1st Place with a total Slam weight of 9.6 pounds. He won a Hobie Pro Angler 14 kayak donated by event sponsor, The Backpacker.
The largest of the elusive flounder was a hefty 3.45 pounds, which was landed by Florida angler Ryan McNeal. Unfortunately for McNeal, he had a nice trout, but simply could not connect with a redfish. McNeal’s fattie flattie earned him 1st Place in the Saddle Flounder division.
On a day when most power boats stayed home or tied to the dock, the kayak anglers braved the weather and collectively caught hundreds of pounds of fish.