Joe Lavigne’s name is well-known in South Louisiana fishing circles, but not for float-fishing spotted bass. Rather, his name is mentioned as being in the revered circle of trophy speckled trout fishermen.
The 68-year-old retired teacher and football and basketball coach from Independence started fishing for Louisiana’s most popular saltwater fish in the Grand Isle surf with Harvey Theriot, a fellow teacher.
It quickly became a habit when he hooked up with Jay Cambre, a Grand Isle camp owner and cousin of the greatest (arguably) of trophy speckled trout legends, Terry St. Cyr.
He soon became a frequent fishing partner of St. Cyr’s and through him met Ed Sexton, Charlie Lieux, Bootsie Toups and Tony Bruce. All of these men have won the state’s premier trout fishing competition, the Coastal Conservation Association’s STAR Tournament.
St. Cyr, Sexton, Lieux and Toups were also fishermen featured in the book Trout Masters: How Louisiana’s Best Anglers Catch the Lunkers. In 2004, Lavigne himself won the STAR with a 9-pound brute.
The very next year St. Cyr won with an 8-pound, 4-ounce fish, but his fishing partner Levigne had a 9-pound 2-ounce fish that was disqualified from entry in the tournament. Contest rules prohibited the same person from winning two years in a row.
The plot thickened. One of the star football athletes that Lavigne coached in high school was a young man named Brandon Carter. Right out of high school, Carter began charter guiding in Venice, specializing in stalking big specks.
Carter was ineligible to enter the STAR Tournament because he was a professional guide, but went on to be featured in the second trophy trout fishing book, Trout Masters: How the Pros do it.
Still, Carter’s skills became so well known that St. Cyr needled Lavigne for a fishing introduction for two years. “The very first trip we three made together I caught a high-7 (pounder),” grinned Lavigne. “It held first place on the STAR leaderboard until the last day of the hundred-day tournament, when Ed Sexton beat me out.
“We caught 75 trout with a 3- to 3 ½-pound average that day in East Bay — no exaggeration. Most people catch a 2-pound trout and call it a 3 ½. I know what a 3 ½ looks like.”
He still saltwater fishes some, but in his own words “pooped out big trout” after Hurricane Katrina. “I get enjoyment from fish — any size,” he chopped the air for emphasis with his short sculling paddle.
“But this,” he jabbed the paddle downward, “is my first love.”