Jonathan Craft knew a CCA-Louisiana STAR-tagged redfish had been caught and released on the north side of Grand Isle by an unregistered angler over the Memorial Day weekend, so he figured it wouldn’t hurt to work the rocks for a while there on his way back to the kayak launch Saturday morning to see if he could score a brand new Chevy Silverado.
He had hit the water just before daybreak to target speckled trout with topwater lures from his new Hobie Outback and also do a little fly fishing, and he caught 15 specks near Dutch Island before the tide changed about 8 o’clock.
“It was like somebody flipped that switch,” said Craft, 33, of Baton Rouge, who’s fished from a kayak for about the past five years. “They just turned off.”
So he headed back to Grand Isle and decided to start at the western-most rock pile to see if some 'CCA-Louisiana STAR lightning' could strike in the same place twice. Michelle Jewel of New Roads had caught a tagged redfish on May 24 in the same vicinity, but released it because she wasn’t registered for the tournament.
He had fished the same spot on his way in Friday — when he limited out on specks — and got his blood pumping when he caught an 18-inch red on a Vudu shrimp under a popping cork.
“You know there’s a tagged redfish in the area although you don’t really know where it could be. So anytime you think you’ve got one, you’re hoping it is, but you never know what’s on the end of the line,” he said about Friday’s fish. “It felt like a decent sized redfish, and when I got it to the boat I checked his back like five or six times looking for a tag, but unfortunately there wasn’t one.
“I spent the next hour beating the rocks and had nothing to show for it.”
Fast forward to Saturday morning, when he was working live shrimp under a popping cork along the rocks. The bite was slow until he got to a spot when his cork vanished, and the fish instantly stole his shrimp.
“It was that third rock pile on the shore side,” he said. “I had a bite, either a pinfish or a sheepshead — whatever it was wasn’t big and it took my shrimp. I rebaited and threw back right in the same spot.”
But this time he was ready and set the hook, and the fish was on.
“It was a very surreal moment. I knew the cork went under and I also knew whatever it was wasn’t big. It wasn’t fighting very hard,” Craft said. “So I assumed it was either a small sheepshead or a rat red, so I pulled him up and he was kind of fighting on the side of the kayak, and I did see something sticking out of it’s back but it wasn’t super bright red. It was covered with algae, so i didn’t know exactly what it was.”
When he recognized it was a tag, he instantly reached for his net.
“I wasn’t taking that chance,” he said. “I grabbed the net and scooped him up. Until I got back to my truck, I left the hook in its mouth and the little fish grips I have gripped to him with a float, so there was not way he was getting away.”
The tag had quite a bit of algae on it, much more than he remembered seeing in the photo of Jewel.
“I really didn’t know what I had. I started doubting myself because the picture from last week showed the tag was bright red, so I thought maybe it might have been last year’s tag,” he said. “But I started scraping algae off the backside and I saw ‘CCA’ and then I saw the ‘2015,’ and I was like, ‘Done.’
“I’m 99.9 percent sure it’s the same fish.”
He paddled over to a father and son kayaking on the rocks, told them what he had caught and asked if they would use his phone to take a few pictures. Then he headed back to the launch, loaded up and drove over to Moran’s Marina in Port Fourchon to get the fish weighed and certified.
Pending verification, STAR Director Rad Trascher said Craft will receive the $40,000 Silverado from the Super Chevy Dealers of Acadiana, Baton Rouge and New Orleans for catching the first tagged redfish of the 2015 tournament. Up to nine more anglers who catch tagged redfish are eligible to receive a 21-foot Nautic Star boat equipped with a 150 Mercury motor and a Mike Gerald trailer package, Trascher said.
Craft said his lucky redfish is obviously a sucker for an easy meal.
“Rad told me he caught it the Thursday before the tournament began, so within a 10-day span, that fish fell for it three times,” he said.
The tournament, which runs through 5 p.m. on Sept. 7, features more than $500,000 in prizes.
You must be registered before catching and entering a fish.