The only certainty about the Ride the Bull kayak fishing tournament on Grand Isle is that there is none.
Last year’s RTB V tournament shattered the participation record with 732 people on the water, and when the results came in, the winner was a female angler who used a YOLO paddle board to take it all.
This year, the participation record was broken by a single ‘yak, with 733 paddlers hitting Caminada pass bright and early Saturday morning.
And when the scales closed at 2:00 p.m., the crowd was elated to once again see a female angler atop the leader board.
On a day that saw record angler participation, a record number of bull redfish caught and record weights, Jaime Clouatre from St. Amant bested the 732 other anglers in the field with her 39.18-pound beast.
The tournament also broke its own record for lady anglers: RTB VI saw a 30-percent increase in female participants, probably helped out by Kalley LeRoy taking the top prize last year.
As word spread that another female angler won the tournament, the next question was “On a paddle board again?”
Nope, but she was in a canoe: Clouatre and her husband Stuart fished a tandem Old Town they bought several years ago from The Backpacker.
Although titled as a kayak fishing tournament, all forms of paddle craft are allowed, and participants are also seen fishing from paddle boards, pirogues and even a couple of homemade vessels.
But here was no doubt this year’s tournament was going to be great early on: Following a 7:00 a.m. shotgun start, the first bull to hit the scales was caught at 7:23.
Ricky Smith set the bar quick and high, and considering prior years’winning weights, his 35.5-pound brute seemed a good bet to take top honors.
The morning bite was fast and furious, with the 10-place board completely filled before the first hour of fishing was complete. Several additional bulls were caught, but didn’t make the cut because of the quality of fish being caught: Oftentimes, assist boats were bringing in two and three redfish at a time.
Personnel from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and weighmaster Ann Smith had their hands full as they worked to get the fish weighed, tagged, measured and released.
As the tide slowed later in the morning, the action cooled off a bit. But quality fish continued making their way to the weigh station throughout the day.
The final count was 72 bull reds—a new tournament record. And those fishing late in the day saw another uptick in action as the tide switched and started falling out of the pass.
Several late-caught fish shook up the board, including Clouatre’s winner.
“We got a late start because my husband had to participate in a conference call for work. We hit the water about 8:30 a.m., but didn’t have any luck,”she said.
Bad luck is an understatement: Clouatre had two cousins from Minnesota fishing the tournament with her. One had a minor diabetes-related incident and had to be tended to by one of the assist boats. Another flipped his kayak and decided to call it quits, so she and her husband left the water early to bring him back to the house.
When they returned to Bridge Side Marina about noon, the jambalaya lunch was being served and it was a tough decision whether to just call it a day and eat lunch or hit the water again.
“Stuart asked if I wanted to just stay in or go back on the water,” she said. “(But) I want to go fish.”
That proved to be a valuable decision.
They anchored the canoe near the bridge and set up shop along with the remaining anglers that were determined to fish the entire tournament until time expired.
Soaking a whole crab on the bottom, Clouatre hooked up but didn’t get too excited.
“This was my fourth year fishing Ride The Bull, and I’ve never caught a bull red. I caught two black drum last year and it had me disappointed thinking that’s what I had again,”she said.
But her mood quickly changed when she literally “saw red.” Her redfish was landed at 12:42 p.m., with just over an hour left in the tournament.
The big bull hit the scales and immediately shook up the leader board. Smith was bumped from the top position he held from the start of the tournament, and for the second year in a row, a lady angler was sitting at number one with the clock winding down.
A couple more bulls made it to the scales, but Clouatre was safe: Her 39.18-pound fish held on for the win. And the final board was pretty impressive, with 10th place coming in at a respectable 27.80 pounds.
Her win earned Clouatre $3,000 in cash, plus an extra $100 for being the top-finishing lady angler. And if that wasn’t enough, she received first pick from the five kayaks donated by Wilderness Systems.
Clouatre allowed her 12-year-old son Aiden, who also fished in the tournament, to make the selection. He picked the camo-colored Wilderness Atak 140, which included an Adventure Oracle paddle.
The kayak and paddle upped Clouatre’s bounty by $2,100 — not too bad for a few hours of fishing.
Clouatre, who only gets out on the water about five times a year, has a deep-seated affection for Ride the Bull.
“This is my weekend,”she said. “I look forward to it all year and my husband goes for me.”
Accepting her prize on stage, she succinctly summed up what it meant for her to win.
“Other than my wedding day and the birth of my four children, this is the best day of my life,”she said.
Ride the Bull is a unique tournament: Many of the participants arrive as strangers and leave as friends. The festival-like atmosphere and combination of fishing skills and luck make it perfect for paddle craft anglers of all experience levels. This year’s event was capped off with a live concert by Louisiana Music Hall of Fame inductees Dash Rip Rock.
As event originator Capt. Danny Wray says, “It’s all about peace, love and redfish.”
Wray along with his wife Kristen, who both founded the tournament, were honored Friday when the new kayak launch next to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries lab on Ludwig Lane was dedicated in their name. The launch has a limestone parking lot, is centrally located on the island, and offers free launch access to the north side of Grand Isle.
Ride the Bull VI Final Results
1. Jaime Clouatre 39.18
2. Ricky Smith 35.50
3. Toby Armand 31.36
4. Derek Perez 31.30
5. Dwayne Walley 30.86
6. Bob Lestelle 30.18
7. Jason Goodin 28.90
8. Aaron Breaux 27.92
9. Daniel Wanko 27.88
10. Sean Green 27.80
Top Lady Angler: Jaime Clouatre 39.18
Top Junior Angler: Conner Cook 24.62
Team Winner: Dirty Hookers 3 bull reds
Heaviest redfish from a paddle board: James Archer