Chagnard found his partner almost 20 years ago.
"Or maybe it was the other way around," he chided. "It's more like Eddie (Chagnard's tournament partner for the FLW Redfish Series) found me."
Eddie Adams actually started frequenting Chag's when he was just a kid. Chagnard recalled him coming in as a teen and really being into bass fishing. He would hang around the store and soak up everything he could about fishing, and Chagnard eventually took him under his wing.
"He was into bass tournaments like I was back then," Chagnard said, "and I kind of guided him in that direction. As he grew, he got started by buying a bass boat and fishing all the local tournaments as well as working as a fishing guide out of Delacroix and Port Sulphur."
Adams' passion eventually moved from bass fishing to redfish tournaments, and he tried to fish them on his own. He struggled to find the perfect partner, and went through a few before he finally saw a silver lining.
"He came in the store one day and told me he didn't have a partner for the coming season," Chagnard said. "I told him I would fish with him if he wanted me to."
Adams didn't really believe Chagnard was serious, and worked him over a little bit to test his commitment. The pair came to an agreement that they would fish the Wal-Mart FLW Redfish Series in 2006.
They fished their first tournament together in March of the same year. Twenty months and two tournament wins later, the Chagnard/Adams team has become one of the hottest redfish unions in the nation. They have appeared on several television shows, and have been featured is national magazines.
While all this fame and fortune is well and good for Chagnard and Adams, Louisiana Sportsman wanted to go beyond their tournament success and get to the root of what makes them successful. We also wanted to know what they do that could benefit all redfish tournament anglers whether they're fishing national big-money events or local jackpot rodeos.
LS: You've won two FLW Redfish Series tournaments since you became a team. Your latest win in Cocodrie, how were you able to pull it off?
RC: We found the fish in Delacroix while scouting about a month in advance of the tournament. The run from Cocodrie to Delacroix was about 115 miles, so we were worried about all the kinds of issues we couldn't control like fuel, locks and wind. That's about a two-hour-and-30-minute run in ideal conditions. We like to deal with the known, so we made a test run to check our time, mileage and where to fuel. In other words, we wanted to plan everything that we could control.
EA: Of course you never know if a trawl boat is going to already be in the fuel line, if a boat is going to be in the locks or if you're going to hit 4-footers out in the open bays. We figured a worst-case scenario would give us two hours to fish with a best case being about two and a half hours.
RC: We got a curve ball on the last day, though. That's when they do all the camera work, and we had to be at Wal-Mart to weigh in at 4:00. Tournament officials told us the night before that we would have to be in at 2:00 rather than 3:00. That meant we were going to have to try to get them in one hour on the last day we weren't sure if we could pull that off or not. I asked Ed what we should do. He had three quarters in his pocket, and we decided that he should flip them, and if two came up heads we would go. Well, all three of them were heads.
LS: What was your primary fishing pattern for the tournament?
EA: We were fishing a large bay that was a small bay before Katrina. There was a large flat where the old shore had washed out, and it was full of grass. Delacroix didn't have flats like this before the storm. Now it's full of them. You can see ponds on before and after images of the marsh, and see where 50-acre ponds are now 200-acre ponds.
RC: This flat was full of what redfish like — warm, clear water, grass and crabs. We were looking for water movement the first two days and casting to that, but the water fell out on us by the third day, and we couldn't get on the flat without making a bunch of noise. We pulled back to a deeper hole, and finished up there. And by a deeper hole, I mean 2 feet as opposed to 6 inches.
LS: What gear advice would you give to anglers who want to fish these big-money tournaments?
RC: The simplest advice I can give is that if you're going to play the game at this level make sure you're in the right equipment. The FLW series has contingency money that is paid out only if you're using certain gear. If we hadn't been fishing out of a Ranger with an Evinrude E-Tech, our $50,000 check would have only been $25,000. And they pay this money all the way down to 75th place, which is an extra $1,000.
LS: What mistakes did you make at the beginning that other beginning teams should strive to avoid?
EA: When I first started fishing redfish tournaments, I was just like everybody else in that I thought if I could catch two 27-inch fish I would be in good shape. Lots of beginners always go out looking for huge concentrations of fish where they catch 40 or 50 fish a day. That's not what you want to do because 50 of the wrong size fish aren't going to do you any good.
RC: Don't go looking for big schools of small fish. Instead, look for small schools of big fish. And nothing is going to prepare you for finding the right fish more than spending time on the water. Too many times, anglers will find a school of 200 fish, and think they're going to win the tournament, but there might be only two of the right-size fish in that entire school. We might find a pond with 100 fish, but they're all the right ones.
EA: We started learning what we were dealing with when we were catching 25-inch fish on the west side of the river that weighed 6 pounds. On the other side of the river, those same-length fish may weigh 7 1/2 pounds.
RC: These bigger fish don't just fall from the sky. One way Eddie and I are alike is that we both want to see the fish and get them in the boat while we're practicing so we can measure and weigh them. People always tell us to run over here or run over there, but we don't fish anywhere we haven't already caught them and put them on the scale. It's something that only comes with experience.
LS: Before you can put them on the scales, you have to find them. How do you do that in practice?
EA: We mainly find them with our eyes.
RC: We take time and cover large areas with the boat and try to make the fish move. In shallow water, they're either going to move or get run over. When we see that movement, we mark the spot on our GPS and keep looking. After we find a few promising areas, we go back and fish them with an H&H "The Secret" spoon after letting them settle down. We don't just go around blindly casting to try to find fish.
EA: Other than seeing the fish, we also want to see things like good, clean water, grass and crab traps. These kinds of areas are full of bait, and we need the clearer water to make our artificials more effective since that's all we can use.
RC: We also keep our eyes open for other subtle signs of fish. For example, we were looking for fish one time in Cocodrie, and we were going from lake to lake. The only lake where we could find fish was Lost Lake. After the third time coming back to it, we noticed that it was the only lake that had a bunch of commercial shrimp boats in it. If the other lakes had one boat, this lake had tons of them. Be aware of what's going on around you.
LS: What lures do you rely on the most to put redfish in the boat whether it's a practice day or a tournament day?
RC: Not only is "The Secret" spoon a good scouting lure, it's also a good lure on tournament day because we land a large percentage of the fish that bite it. We also throw soft plastics like the Berkley Gulp stuff on a jighead. And we also keep a beetle spin tied on — what the guys from Texas call a spinnerbait. If a redfish angler has four rods on his deck, he most likely has on a spoon, a jig with plastic, a beetle spin and some kind of topwater.
LS: Is it a given that you're going to do well if you find the right fish, or do they sometimes let you down?
EA: Just finding them isn't the end of it. There will be days that the fish will act funny for whatever reason. Some days you could catch them on a monkey wrench, and some days you can't get them to bite anything. It's not like you're going to catch them just because you found them.
RC: A Lafitte tournament we fished a while back was a good example. We were fishing a big group of about 15 or 20 fish, but we couldn't get them to bite. They would run from the sound of our baits hitting the water. We fished the same shore in the same area all day long without a fish. I don't know if the moon got right or the tide got right, but three hours later, every fish we threw at just crushed it. It was like somebody flipped a switch.
EA: If the fish are off, we may try changing colors or going to a scented bait like the Berkley Gulp. Sometimes it may even be something subtler like streamlining out jigheads and letting them float a bit or even fishing a plastic with an open hook. If you know the fish are there, try to finesse them until they turn on. Then you can be more aggressive.
LS: During a multi-day tournament, do you get as much weight as you can each day, or do you save fish for tomorrow?
EA: I've always tried to get as much weight in the boat as I can each day, but I know that's hurt us as a team before. We now believe that you've got to save some.
RC: We were fishing one tournament where we threw back 12 fish over 7 pounds in one day. The next day, fishing the same spot, we had one small fish we just couldn't get rid of. We firmly believe that had we not stuck all those fish the day before, we would have caught the one we needed and moved up to a nice weight. You can look at any tournament and see that there's always somebody that brings in a big weight then comes up empty the next day. The weights always fall off by the third day no matter who has the lead.
EA: The guys who catch the biggest bag on the last day usually win these tournaments. Everybody's spots are getting beat up and the weights go down. Ray and I always camp out on a spot rather than move around a lot. We live or die with what we find, so we try to make them last as best we can.
RC: You can't win running your motor. You've got to put your line in the right water as much as you can while trying to catch that 7 1/2- to 8-pound fish. That's how you win these tournaments.
LS: How can somebody get involved in fishing redfish tournaments without investing a lot of money?
RC: The CCA got involved with redfish tournaments recently, and to everybody's surprise, well over 100 boats turned out. It was only $300 to fish it, and it paid $12,000. That kind of stuff is great for a beginner who wants to see what it's like. Things like the one-day IFA events are also good, but they're generally harder to win because somebody can get on a lucky bite and rack up a big sack.
EA: There are also some advantages to fishing out of a smaller boat, too. You'll be able to get in places that the guys in the big boats can't even dream of getting into. Several tournaments have been won by small-boat anglers for that very reason.
RC: Angers can also try the new pro-am tournaments that are coming up in March. It's a great opportunity for a novice to see what it's like with a minimal investment. There will be a pro and an amateur paired up in each boat, and the pros fish against the pros while the amateurs fish against the amateurs. This is the one that's going to kick off in conjunction with the Louisiana Sportsmen's Show in the Superdome. It's going to be huge for the sport, and it's going to be a great way to learn how to play the game.