Slidell angler Christian Orfanello caught the ninth-largest sheepshead ever brought to scales Sunday, and he has a good friend to thank for his elevation to legendary Louisiana angler status.
Orfanello lives on the water and fishes far more than most anglers, so he rarely keeps sheepshead, but buddy Chas Champagne loves the spiny fish, and he just so happened to remind Orfanello of that fact when he was heading out on the water.
“(Champagne) had been texting and asking me to keep any big sheepshead I caught so he could grill them,” Orfanello said.
The day wasn’t windy, but Orfanello still opted to duck into the series of canals that service Lakeshore Estates, knowing they tend to hold big trout this time of year. He settled on a favorite ledge that falls off to 20 feet, and threw out live shrimp on a drop-shot rig.
It proved to be a popular setup for a variety of fish. Orfanello had five trout and a bass in the boat, and had thrown back several sheepshead that he didn’t figure were quite big enough for Champagne’s grill.
Then destiny struck.
“I was watching my line,” he said. “A lot of times with a big trout, that’s the only way you know you got a fish. My line started swimming at me, so I regained as much line as I could and set the hook.
“First, I thought it was a big trout, but then he took too much drag too many times, so I started thinking redfish, and then I got a glimpse of him and thought it was a big drum.
“Then my buddy Mike (Moran) netted him and threw him on the floor. That’s when I realized he was a big sheepshead. I started laughing. I said, ‘Oh, Chas will definitely want that one.’”
They chucked the fish in the cooler, and just a cast or two later, Orfanello had another bruiser sheepshead on, this one only slightly smaller than the first.
The anglers continued fishing, and put several more speckled trout in the box before calling it a day and running the boat to Champagne’s house in Eden Isles.
“When I got to Chas’s and pulled them out,” Orfanello said, “he was like, ‘Hold on a second, dude. Let me weigh these real quick.’ He weighed them on a handheld scale, and he was like, ‘You need to go weigh these on the certified scale at the Rigolets.’”
Orfanello did just that, and the first fish pushed the digital readout to 11.82 pounds, barely edging out an 11.81-pound fish caught by George Bourg in August of 1972.
Though Orfanello’s fish was a beast, it was almost 10 pounds lighter than the heaviest sheepshead ever brought to scales in the Bayou State. That 21-pound, 4-ounce fish was caught by Wayne Desselle in 1982.
Desselle’s fish is also recognized as the world record by the International Game Fish Association.
Orfanello’s big sheepshead is pending certification from the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association.