Kalley LeRoy added a little extra ‘extreme’ to the Ride the Bull V Extreme Kayak Tournament Saturday out of Bridge Side Marina on Grand Isle.
The petite 26-year-old from Denham Springs, who weighs all of 115 pounds soaking wet, reeled in a 26.14-pound bull red to best the 731 other registered paddlers in the record-setting field and claim the top prize of $3,250 cash and a new Wilderness Ride 115X kayak.
She reeled in the 40-inch bull while standing on a 12-foot long, 35-inch wide paddle board that weighs 35 pounds and is only about 3-inches thick.
“That was the first big fish I’ve ever pulled in on my board,” said a beaming LeRoy, who normally fishes more in the marsh rather than the wide open spaces of Caminada Pass. “We wanted to bring them out here so people could see how stable they are, and I think watching a woman pull in a big redfish on a paddle board proves it.”
She was fishing with her husband and a group of paddle boarders just northwest of the Hwy. 1 bridge with cut mullet in about 20- to 25-feet of water when the big red hooked up about 11 a.m.
She had lost what she suspected was an even bigger red 10 minutes earlier, but stayed patient and cast back in the same spot.
“We stayed right there in that same perimeter the entire day,” she said. “It was so awesome. I loved it. It was so much fun.”
The day got started before sunrise as a myriad of kayaks in a variety of models and colors started lining up and edging into the water at the Bridge Side boat ramp, with enough plastic on hand to make Pamela Anderson, Joan Rivers and Bruce Jenner turn green with envy.
Capt. Danny Wray, who created Ride the Bull with his wife Kristen, blew the horn to kick off the event shortly after 7 a.m., and the armada of 732 kayaks churned into the pass in search of bull reds.
The fish, however, apparently had made other plans for the day.
Despite the presence of almost 1,500 lines in the water for the better part of eight hours, only 24 bulls were weighed-in during the event.
“I guess the only complaint anyone could have was the slow fishing, but that’s out of our control,” Wray said Saturday afternoon after the awards ceremony. “I don’t know why they didn’t want to merge into the pass very much. It seemed to me the bulk of what was caught were resident fish on the bridge.”
But overall, Wray said the day went smoothly and everyone he talked to had a great time, despite a couple of storms that threatened the pass.
“I guess the stressful part for me was watching those squall lines buffer the coast,” Wray said. “I think if we’d have held the tournament in Fourchon, we’d have rained out, because they were within about 8 miles.
“A couple of times we felt the temperature drop and then the wind shifted, but by the grace of God they slid by for the most part.”
Representatives from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries were on hand at the dock, weighing, tagging and releasing each of the reds that were whisked back to the marina by power boats.
“We try to get them re-oxygenated,” said biologist Melissa Crouch. “We keep some water in the tank, and we’ll cool it down with some ice so it holds more oxygen.
“We let it run through their gills to make sure they’re not going belly-up in the tank when we let them swim, then we release them.”
Anglers from 16 states participated in the kayak tournament that has staked its claim as the world’s largest, and a couple of international entrants were registered to back it up.
Paul Bailey, an industrial designer with Navico, the parent company of Lowrance, traveled almost 8,000 miles from Auckland, New Zealand to fish in the event and earned an award for the longest distance traveled to compete.
“The people were great,” said Bailey, who didn’t catch any bulls Saturday, but did get to reel in a few earlier in the week. “The event was very well run and organized. It was just fantastic.”
Other anglers, like Dusty Hulin of New Iberia, fished out of a kayak for the first time ever.
“To see that many people come out, it was a great experience,” Hulin said. “It’s always been on my bucket list to fish it, and I finally got the opportunity, so I borrowed a kayak. It was awesome.”
Rad Trascher, director of CCA Louisiana’s STAR Tournament, helped out by operating a chase boat to shuttle caught redfish back to Bridge Side Marina.
The spectacle of watching more than 700 kayaks converge on Caminada Pass as the sun rises is a sight to see, he said.
“I think as many people come here for the party and the camaraderie as they do the fishing,” Trascher said. “Kayak fishing is kind of a solitary sport, then you have an event like this where it’s the extreme opposite.
“It’s cool to see this many people enthused about something. It’s not fishing like we’re used to.”
To take care of the 700-plus anglers, Bridge Side Marina owner Buggie Vegas said he doubled up on frozen mullet and crabs and made sure he had an ample supply of redfish leaders on hand for the day.
He commended his staff for taking care of the one-day crush of kayakers for bait, breakfast sandwiches, lunch and supplies, and was appreciative to the Ride the Bull faithful for the economic impact they have on the island.
“These people really supported the local businesses on Grand Isle,” Vegas said. “You’ve got 700 people, and probably another couple hundred here just to watch.
“We don’t have to worry too much about selling fuel today, but everything else we try to take care of.”
The relaxed, laid-back feel of the tournament is one reason Wray thinks it keeps growing, with registration up about 40 percent from last year.
“It’s like Woodstock, or Sturgis without motorcycles,” Wray said. “People just want to come, maybe to help break a record.
“If I had to order T-shirts for next year tomorrow, I’d order about a thousand.”
And he had a message for Jacksonville, Fla., which still bills the Jacksonville Fishing Classic each May as the ‘world’s largest’ kayak tournament.
“Get over it, dude,” Wray said. “You’re not even close. We just lapped you today.”
Final Standings for Ride the Bull V
1. Kalley LeRoy, Denham Springs 26.14
2. Eric Waller, Poplarville, Miss. 25.66
3. Michael Ussery, Lacombe 25.42
4. Eric LeMaitre, Mandeville 25.00
5. Rob Bergeron, Geismar 24.70
6. Perry Watts, Algiers 22.56
7. Brad Valtiera, Houston, Texas 22.48
8. DD Breaux, Baton Rouge 22.08
9. Phil Becker, Metairie 21.20
10. Joe Moore, Baton Rouge 20.68