Tony Bruce is just 40 days away from picking up a brand new 18-foot NauticStar bay boat in the CCA-Louisiana STAR tournament after landing an almost 8-pound speckled trout last Friday during the Faux Pas Lodge Rodeo out of Venice.
His 7-pound, 13-ounce speck catapulted him into first place in the STAR’s East Division, and it would be fitting if he remains on top when the tournament ends Sept. 7.
Two people have won bay boats in the STAR over the last several years while fishing on his boat, but he’s never personally collected the top prize himself.
“It’s going to be exciting to see how it plays out,” said Bruce, 63, of Zachary. “I told my wife I’m ready to accept whatever happens, because I’ve won three second places in the STAR already.
“You know what they say about always being a bridesmaid, but never a bride…”
He was fishing with good friends Ed Sexton and Dudley Vandenborre for Team Deadly Dudley in the Faux Pas when the big speck devoured a live croaker on a rig out of South Pass in 25 feet of water about 9 Friday morning.
“We were catching redfish, and the ones we catch out there are pretty strong. When there’s a redfish on, usually they’ll make a run to go underneath the rig. But a big trout will hit hard, then he’ll make that run and start to come to the top,” Bruce said. “When that fish hit, I felt the strike and thought it was a red or a trout — it was a good bite.
“When I started fighting him, I told Dudley it might be a trout, and if it is, it was a good one. Fifteen or 20 seconds later he came to the top and Dudley netted him. He threw him on the bottom of the boat, and the hook came out. I said, ‘Look at that. My goodness. It could have cost me a possible boat!’”
The handheld scale on Sexton’s boat pegged the 27-inch trout at almost 8 pounds.
“We were excited because we knew that fish would anchor our five-fish stringer for the Faux Pas, and right when I caught it, I knew it was a STAR fish because 6.2 was leading at the time,” he said.
Bruce took special care with the trout to make sure the fish arrived at the rodeo scales in top shape.
“I soak a big bath towel in saltwater first, then wrap the fish in the towel and stick him in the bottom of the ice chest. Then I pour in some saltwater, so he stays hydrated,” he said. “If a fish dehydrates, you can lose 2 or 3 ounces.
“Sometimes an ounce will make all the difference.”
His go-to trout rig is probably more heavy duty than most speck fishermen on the coast — he admitted he’s caught red snapper with the same tackle. But with loads of 7-pounders under his belt — as well as his personal best of 8 ½ pounds — he’s obviously doing something right.
“I fish exclusively with 80-pound Spiderwire braid and 80-pound fluorocarbon leaders,” he said. “When a 7- or 8-pound trout hits, it’s like a 15-pound redfish. It’s not so much they’ll break off, but they cut you in the rigs.
“I’ve been successful that way, and I’m not going to change it.”
He uses a Shimano spinning reel combined with a medium-heavy Ugly Stik, and uses either a No. 4 Eagle Claw treble hook or a No. 5 Kahle hook.
“If the croakers are big, I fish with the Kahle,” he said. “If the croakers are smaller, I’ll fish with the treble hook.”
Bruce was using the treble hook with a Carolina rig when he caught the big trout last Friday, with a medium-sized croaker hooked in the butt.
“Live bait is crucial. If I don’t have live bait, I don’t even go fishing,” he said. “I pull a trawl and catch my own bait.
“I pretty much fish croakers exclusively. If the current is strong, I hook them through the nose. If the current is medium, I hook them through the back. And if there’s no current, I hook them through the butt.”
Team Deadly Dudley went on to dominate at the Faux Pas, collecting $6,000 dollars and finishing in first place for biggest speck, heaviest five fish stringer and the grand slam (heaviest trout, flounder and rat red combined.)
“It was my spot, Ed’s boat and Dudley’s ability to net,” Bruce said about landing the trophy trout. “We had a great time. It was just awesome.”
One big hurdle for Bruce to finally connect on the STAR boat this year will come next weekend at the Krewe of Hercules Rodeo in Houma. He’ll be fishing alongside Sexton and Terry St. Cyr, who already have won three STAR boats each.
“I said, ‘Guys, I’m gong to tell you right now: If y’all catch a big fish, I’m going to have a net in one hand and a paddle in the other,'” Bruce said with a big laugh. “‘If it looks pretty big, I’m hitting him with the paddle. If it looks small, I’ll net him.'”