Lots and lots of people go on fishing trips, but very few people ever get the opportunity to go on trips earned by fishing.
But for the second time in just three years, Betty Ellender will be heading out next spring —probably to Savannah, Ga. with her sister — on a free trip she won by catching the biggest speckled trout in the Ladies Division of the CCA-Louisiana STAR Tournament.
Ellender, 64, of Carlyss, will receive a $2,500 travel voucher at next month’s STAR banquet for landing a 7.73-pound trout in the Calcasieu Ship Channel in August. In 2013, she won the same division with a 7.61-pounder and took a free trip to Charleston, S.C.
But the bounty she’s captured via the STAR doesn’t stop there: Since 2005, she’s also won a 22-foot boat with a tagged redfish, a second 17-foot boat with an 8.15-pound gator trout in 2008 and placed second in 2010 with a 7.68-pounder. (Ellender was tied for first in 2010, but received second place only because the other angler caught his trout first.)
“I’m very competitive. I like to win something,” Ellender said with a chuckle when describing her stellar STAR track record. “But you know what my husband calls it? Dumb luck.
“The fish that I caught this year was the only fish I caught over 3 pounds. It just happened to be there one day.”
During the STAR, she and her husband Herman routinely head out in their 18-foot pontoon boat a couple of times each week and leisurely work over a few select honey holes in the Ship Channel with live mullet he catches in a cast net.
“My husband has been fishing all his life. He’s got it about figured out. He’s my guide,” Ellender said. “We’re too old to go out in these fast boats and stand up.
“We’ve got comfortable chairs, and we just go along and we go sit in our spots and come home. We use live mullet. We free line, we use a cork and we fish on the bottom. You just have to be there when they swim by — that’s what my husband says.”
And the Ellender family is no stranger to monster trout: Betty and Herman’s youngest son, Jason, landed a 10.65-pound whopper while wade-fishing in Sabine Lake in 2013 — good enough for the No. 8-spot in the all-time Louisiana record books.
But even with a Top 10 fish to Jason’s credit, there’s little doubt who maintains bragging rights in the family.
“My nephews, my son, my husband — they don’t like me coming around when they’re talking fish too much,” she said with a laugh. “They’re all better fishermen than me, but like I said, I have luck.”
As for wade-fishing, that’s one area Jason won’t ever have to worry about being overshadowed in by his mom.
“I wouldn’t get out of my boat and wade if they paid me to do it,” she said, laughing. “Oh no. There’s alligators out there, and they seem fairly close, too.
“There’s no way I’m getting out when I have a nice boat with a nice seat to sit in.”
As is often the case with anglers who pursue trophy trout, Ellender said patience is a big key.
“Sometimes we go and don’t catch anything, not even a bite,” she said. “But you go back the next day or two, and they’re there.
“We fish around the rocks a lot, and lots of people get hung up and don’t want to fish around the rocks. We just stay with it — that’s the kind of fishing we do.”
Of all her STAR victories, though, Ellender said catching the tagged redfish in 2005 was the most exciting.
“The odds of catching a tagged redfish are astronomical. They just put a few out there,” she said. “Catching a big fish is pretty good, but that tagged redfish was amazing. We had caught three or four about the same size, and that was probably the third or fourth one I caught that day.
“My husband looked down, and he said, ‘That thing has a tag on it.’ We had to scrape the slime off the tag to actually read it. But that was amazing. You know you’ve got a boat when you catch that.”
She followed that up with her second boat in 2008 for winning the Ladies Division with an 8.15-pounder — and was awarded a pink 17-foot Weldbilt with a 50 hp Mercury motor, which had matching pink decals.
“I still have that boat, but it’s green now,” Ellender said. “My husband and I would go out fishing in it and people would look at him and say, ‘Man, why did you buy a pink boat?’ He’d say, ‘My wife won it.’
“But it eventually got painted green.”
With the tournament over for another year, Ellender — who started fishing seriously when she and Herman got married in 1970 — said they will do some flounder fishing in the winter until things get cranked up again for the STAR next Memorial Day.
“We all love fishing. We fished when the kids were young, and when they got a little older I stayed home and let my husband take the boys,” she said. “It’s great for the family.
“Once you learn the basics, it’s just being in the right spot at the right time.”