Daniel Compagno experienced a wide range of emotions on the water out of Hopedale Tuesday, first losing the biggest flounder he’d ever seen after landing it up on the rocks near the MRGO dam — then barely managing to reel in his personal best speckled trout only an hour later to unexpectedly grab the lead in the CCA-Louisiana STAR Tournament’s East Division.
“If you had been there to see the fiasco that took place with me trying to land that trout, it was a mess,” Compagno said with a chuckle. “When I saw how big she was, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to swing her in. Trying to net her, I almost lost my Oakley sunglasses in the process and actually dropped my rod.
“I had my rod way over my head trying to get the fish closer to be able to net it, and she made a pull that knocked my sunglasses off, and with everything going on I lost grip on the rod and it fell in the boat …. It was a nightmare that seemed like it wouldn’t end.”
But Compagno was eventually able to net the fish — then took no chances once he got the hefty 26 ½-inch speck aboard.
“When I finally got her in the net, I set the whole net and everything in the ice chest and cranked up and ran to get it registered,” he said.
The big trout officially tipped Hopedale Marina’s certified scales at 6.7 pounds — good enough for first place right now in the STAR’s East Division.
But the story gets even better.
“It was literally my last live croaker that I had before having to run buy more, and it caught the big one,” said Compagno, who estimated he reeled in a limit of nice specks throughout the day, even though he wasn’t actually keeping many fish. “I was only out there to catch a big one.”
He was fishing with 3- to 4-inch croakers hooked through the tail on a 4/0 offset worm hook with a small egg sinker positioned at the hook.
The big trout bit on the north side of the MRGO dam about 2:20 p.m. on the bottom in the middle of the canal, he said.
“I was actually hung up when I caught the big one — there’s a lot to get hung on down there fishing those rocks. When I casted and it went down to the bottom, when I pulled up I felt I was hung on some rocks so I kind of wiggled the rod tip a little bit to get it free,” he said. “As soon as it came free is when it bit. It must have been watching it, and as soon as it came free I felt the thump.
“From when I set the hook until I saw it, I swore it was a redfish. And when it came and rolled and I saw how big it was, I think I stopped breathing for three minutes.”
Compagno’s highest of highs with the trout came just about an hour after his lowest of lows — when the biggest flounder he’d ever caught broke his line as he pulled it up onto the rocks on the south side of the dam. He was fishing up against the rocks there with a Gulp shrimp under a popping cork.
“I know it would have been leading in the STAR Tournament as well. I actually got him up on the rocks and had my hands on him, and was turning to walk to the boat, and he broke my line,” he said. “I fought to try to catch him out of the rocks, and he flopped back down into the water and left.
“I was pretty upset about that, debating on leaving after that happened. I know it was every bit of 6 or 7 pounds. To watch it flop through the rocks and back into the water and swim away, I was done. I already had pictured my name being on the STAR leaderboard for the biggest flounder caught.”
But Compagno, 35, of Mandeville, decided to stick it out — and was rewarded about an hour later with his first place speck. He attempted to release the fish after weighing it in at Hopedale Marina, but the big trout wasn't able to recover.
"I spent about five minutes trying to get it a little more life, but when I let it go it would kind of turn over on its side," he said. "So I tried, but I would have hated for it to turn over and then have a pelican come over and fly away with it.
"I'll probably get it mounted because it’s my personal best. I’d love to see it on the wall."
And his boat — a 14-foot Weldcraft powered by a 25 hp Johnson motor — should give hope to STAR anglers everywhere who don’t have tens of thousands of dollars to plunk down on a shiny new vessel with the latest electronics and bells and whistles.
There’s a long way to go still until the tournament ends on Labor Day, but the first place angler in each of the STAR’s trout divisions across the coast wins an 18-foot Nautic Star boat, which would be just fine with Compagno.
“I do a lot of river bass fishing, and that’s what we use to fish rivers out of. That’s all I got for right now,” he said. “The whole driving force to me trying to win a bigger boat is to be able to take my whole family out at one time to go fishing. This past Sunday I brought my fiancée and her daughter out, and I’m making a plan to go back this weekend with my son because all four of us can’t go out ….
“That’s what I keep telling her — if I win a big bay boat, best believe we’ll be going all the time and we’ll be able to fish comfortably.”
So all in all — even with the big doormat that got away — Compagno’s Tuesday in Hopedale is a day of fishing he likely won’t soon forget.
“Catching that giant trout made me forget about the flounder pretty quick,” he said.
To see the current STAR leaderboard as of June 13, click here.