Carter was one of 40 kayak anglers participating in the tournament held Nov. 11-12 from Gulf Outlet Marina in Chalmette.
On the second day of the two-day tournament, Carter was satisfied that he had already boated and released his best redfish of the day and was looking for a large trout to cap the event.
Unlike typical contests, kayak tournament rules dictate that anglers can submit only two fish per day in the event: one redfish and one speckled trout. Weight of the fish is irrelevant, since kayaking anglers also submit their catches for the tournament by closely measuring the length of each fish and recording it, along with a special identifier specific to the tournament, by photographing the fish with a digital camera.
What Carter thought he needed was a big trout.
"I was deep jigging a drop-off between the shipping channel and a deep flat in an area near Lake Borgne," Carter said. "I'm using a Z-man paddle tail in dark chartreuse hoping to get a good trout when this fish hits the bait and just hugs the bottom."
Mistaking the fish for one of the numerous doormat flounder he caught during his pre-fishing, Carter held tightly to the medium-light St. Croix rod spooled with 10-pound braided line when the big fish decided to make a run for it.
"I fought that fish for 25 minutes, watching as he frayed the line and bent the rod like a horseshoe," said the angler, who is partners in the South Carolina-based guide service Kayak Fish SC. "I finally got him to the top, and he flared his gills as he passed by the boat and I reached down there and scooped him up in a big old bear hug."
Carter's official 40 1/2-inch redfish replaced the 30-something-inch fish he was planning to enter and catapulted him to the top of the leaderboard by 4 1/2 inches.
Eventually he did land and enter a respectable 16 ¼-inch trout from his Hobie Pro Angler kayak and went on to win the 2011 Inshore Fishing Association's Kayak Fishing Championship.
The win also earned him the circuit's Angler of the Year Award.
Carter combined a 30 3/4-inch redfish and a 17 1/2 -inch trout on day one for a total of 48 1/4 inches, putting him in fourth place going into the second and final day.
"I knew about what size the leader (Blake Gill) had for a redfish because I saw him catch it," said Carter. "We were all catching redfish in the 30-inch range, which was typical for the fish in the area.
"I decided to go for a bigger trout to try to make up the difference."
Carter had been deep jigging an 8-inch Z-man Streak XL on a 1 1/2-ounce 5/0 jighead to catch both his day-one and day-two reds, catching nearly 30 fish each day without increasing his mark.
"I was in the right place at the right time when that bull red decided to eat," he said.
Carter entered the National Championship tournament as the 2011 IFA Atlantic Division Angler of The Year.
The IFA supports six divisions from North Carolina to Texas, and the winner of each division (based on a combined points total for three tournaments per division) gets to compete against other divisional winners for the tour's Angler of the Year title.
"This is what I love doing; this is what I want to do," said Carter, who is a pro-staff member for Hobie kayaks, St. Croix rods, Z-man lures and Superstick push poles. "It's a great honor to be able to represent my sponsors and the sport of kayak fishing with this win."
Final standings included:
1. Justin Carter – 105 inches
2. Brendan Bayard – 101.25
3. Blake Gill – 98.63
4. Chad Skeeles – 97.25
5. Jeff Suber – 95.75
6. Clint Barghi – 95.25
7. Timothy Walker – 91.50
8. Cameron Barghi – 90.00
9. Rory Gregg – 89.75
10. Lee Smith – 87.75
Other titles during the event were:
• 2011 Angler of the Year Award ($1,000) - Justin Carter
• Berkley Gulp! Redfish Award ($100) - Justin Carter
• Berkley Gulp! Trout Award ($100) - Brendan Bayard
• Hobie Top Angler ($200) - Justin Carter
• PENN Reel Award - Justin Carter
• EGO Net Award ($50) - Justin Carter