The unlikely fishing buddies went up against the biggest names in South Louisiana speckled trout fishing during a two-week span this spring, and came out victorious both times.
The first was at the Angler's Royale event on April 21. An unseasonably strong cold front blew through the morning of the tournament, knocking down weights for all of the competitors.
Capt. Eric Dumas, a regular on speckled-trout tournament leaderboards, looked like he had the title with a 3-pound speck, but then Rieffel and Tumey showed up with a box full of 3-pound-plus fish, including a 5.04-pounder that won the tournament and the $2,500 guaranteed first-place check.
"We catch fish this size all the time," Tumey said after the weigh-in.
The anglers revealed that their big-fish baits are Suicide Croakers made by Category 5. The soft-plastic lures are more substantial than many other soft plastics, resembling a cross between a croaker and a pogie.
Their favorite area to target is a group of rigs near Hopedale's Bay Eloi.
"There are always big fish around there if you know how to fish them," Rieffel said.
Two weeks later, at the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries' Saltwater Series tournament held out of Dockside Marina in Slidell, the pair of anglers worried about whether they'd be able to reach their stomping grounds. Tumey's bay boat was in the shop, so they'd have to rely on Rieffel's bass boat.
"If it's windy, we have no shot," Rieffel said the week before the event.
As luck would have it, though, the day dawned with Lake Pontchartrain looking like a giant mirror God used to give himself a better view of the sunrise.
The anglers scooted out of the Rigolets, and were very quickly at their chosen area.
"It was only a 45-minute run," Rieffel said.
They threw topwaters along a shoreline early, catching a nice fish they chunked in the livewell.
After the sun got up in the sky, though, they went to their favorite rigs and threw Suicide Croakers in the tiger color.
They caught plenty of fish, and would have easily limited, but they released them all, keeping only the heaviest two. They culled the topwater fish with a bigger one caught at the rigs.
Tournament rules allowed each team to weigh in a maximum of two fish, with the winner decided by heaviest aggregate of the two.
Then, with the fish still biting, the wind started to blow, and Rieffel and Tumey knew what kind of run they had in front of them.
So they left and began the tortuous task of getting back to Dockside.
"Getting into the Rigolots and the lake was not nice," Rieffel said.
The anglers guessed they had 6 pounds of speckled trout in the livewell, and thought they had no shot of winning the tournament. They knew they were up against Lake Pontchartrain heavy hitters like Dudley Vandenborre, Chas Champagne and Kris Robert, the winner of last year's Saltwater Series event.
But, despite the harrowing conditions, the anglers made it back with time to spare, and threw 6.09 pounds on the scale — good enough for the first-place check of $900.
Rieffel is a Braithwaite resident, but Tumey is a Kentucky native who came down to South Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina to help build houses. The two anglers met during that time, and Rieffel showed Tumey how to fish local waters.
The Kentucky native was instantly hooked, and never moved back to his home state. He couldn't get enough of South Louisiana speckled trout fishing.
"He's a very good fisherman," Rieffel said of Tumey. "I could tell that right away."
In the seven years since Hurricane Katrina, Tumey has studied Louisiana trout and experimented with the best ways to catch them.
"He fishes different than most people," Rieffel said.
One of the keys is that Tumey works the Suicide Croakers extremely slowly at the rigs; something that's not always easy to do, particularly during a tournament when nerves are on edge.
But as the old saying goes, slow and steady wins the race.