2023 Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo

This nice tarpon was caught slow trolling a DOA Bait Buster soft plastic lure. Trolling live bait is a popular method, but tarpon are also regularly caught using artificial lures. This fish was well over 100 pounds and put up a long fight before finally being brought boat side.

The “Granddaddy” of them all is coming back to town July 27-29

Sport fishing is steeped into Louisiana culture. No event is more indicative of that culture than the Grand Isle International Tarpon Rodeo. In fact, it is often referred to as a “granddaddy of fishing rodeos.”

In true Louisiana fashion, it is a fishing, food, games, artisan wares and music festival all rolled into one and bound tightly by southern hospitality. Although the math is sketchy and documented history hard to come by, the event claims 1928 as the inaugural year, with some interruptions for WW2, the BP oil spill, Covid 19, and possibly more.

Held annually, the last full weekend of July, the country’s oldest fishing tournament returns to the island again this year for the 95th event. This year’s dates are July 27-29.

Just a short time ago, no one knew if Grand Isle would recover from the devastation wrought on the island by category 4 Hurricane Ida in 2021. The winds and storm surge rolled over the Hwy. 1 corridor inflicting massive damage to Grand Isle and surrounding areas. Yes, Grand Isle is no stranger to hurricanes, but this one seemed a bit different. Would long-time residents have the resiliency to rebuild once again? Of course they did.

Bigger and better

The rodeo went off without a hitch in 2022, despite some of the island still in the early stages of recovery mode. This year’s tournament looks to be bigger and better with more room accommodations back online as well as the recent partial reopening of the Grand Isle State Park. Whether tent camping, RV sites, hotel-type rooms, or camps, overnight accommodations are readily available.

Of course, Grand Isle itself is enough to justify a visit. Sometimes referred to as the Cajun Bahamas, it is Louisiana’s only inhabited barrier island. As a hub for both recreational and commercial fishing, Grand Isle also provides support for the oil and gas industries. It is a top vacation or weekend getaway for Louisiana residents and tourists alike.

Tarpon are infrequent visitors to the passes of Grand Isle as they tend to remain more offshore. However, the Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo has a kayak division for redfish, redfish stringer and speckled trout. This angler battles a bull red in Barataria Pass while a working shrimp boat passes in the background.

The island provides opportunities to fish inshore and offshore by boat, as well as many shore based fishing opportunities from the bank, roadside and rock jetties. The popular Caminada fishing pier next to Bridge Side Marina has not yet reopened from the damage inflicted by Hurricane Ida. In addition to the fishing, beach and camp life abound. Bird watching, shelling, crabbing, and dolphin watching are prime activities for non-anglers looking for outdoor action.

Spectator sport

The Tarpon Rodeo is somewhat unique in that it hosts many more spectators than it does fishermen. However, the opportunities for anglers are huge. Divisions for a multitude of saltwater species are open and spread between several divisions including kayak, children, inside, shoreline, big game and tag and release divisions. Of course, tarpon is king and always the highlight of the event.

Despite providing extreme sport with their hard fighting and high flying aerial acrobatics, tarpon in Louisiana are a niche fishery with only a handful of guides and dedicated anglers pursuing them on a regular basis. Perhaps due to their location being mostly offshore or near the mouth of the river, it may also be attributed to their poor food value. It is no secret that Louisiana anglers like to eat what they catch. Nonetheless, the Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo boasts a mystique that draws anglers and spectators from far and wide.

Tarpon are migratory and begin showing up off the Louisiana coast sometimes in June, but are generally around in good numbers when the event takes place in late July. Trolling live and artificial baits is one of the most popular methods to catch these beasts. Louisiana tarpon are large. The current state record weighed in at 246.63 pounds and was caught by David Prevost in the West Delta Block in October 2015. The number 10 fish weighed 220.50 and was caught by Josh Tanner, August 1997 in Southwest Pass.

Interesting note

It is interesting to note that none of the Top 10 state record tarpon were caught during the Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo. The current rodeo record tarpon was caught in 2018 by Guy Cenac and weighed an impressive 208 pounds 14 ounces. Cenac’s beast felled Johnny Guidry’s prior rodeo record of 206 pounds even, that had held for for 46 years.

Grand Isle moves a step closer to normalcy each passing day, but let there be no doubt that it is fully up and running and welcoming visitors.  Hosting the rodeo and drawing visitors helps that cause as they get to experience Grand Isle. Whether to fish the rodeo or just soak up the sun and sand, make plans to visit Grand Isle and experience all this Louisiana gem has to offer.

For rodeo tickets and information visit www.tarponrodeo.org or call 540-469-7700.

About Chris Holmes 247 Articles
Chris Holmes has kayak fished in the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and many places in between.

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