Tony Bruce has done a lot of things in his 63 years. He was a school teacher and coach, owned an offshore oil-field boat rental business and developed property in Zachary for the Copper Mill Golf Course.
Before that, starting at 10 years old, he worked on his father’s shrimp boat out of Cut Off. That is where he developed his love of fishing.
It was only natural that, like any South Louisiana bayou boy, he would start speckled trout fishing in Louisiana’s fertile marshes. The trout were small, but he caught lots of them.
After leaving teaching and as his business prospered, he purchased a houseboat that he kept in the marsh near Golden Meadow.
He wanted to catch bigger trout, so he began to target Bird Island, Timbalier Island, and the Fourchon barges and beaches.
He sold the first houseboat and, with eldest son Ross, purchased another one that he moored at Fourchon.
He caught 2- to 3-pound specks — decent by most standards — but he wanted more. So he began to fish more and entered fishing rodeo competitions.
About 1985, he and his son were eating at Randolph’s Restaurant in Golden Meadow when a big, confident man walked in.
“You know who that is?” Tony asked Ross.
“No,” the younger man replied.
“That’s Terry St. Cyr,” Tony said
“You know him?” Ross asked with a tinge of awe.
St. Cyr was well on the way to fame in Louisiana trophy trout fishing circles.
“Yeah,” Tony replied. “I played independent league softball and basketball against him.”
“You think we could meet him?” the young man asked his father.
“I had just caught my largest trout in my life — a 6-pound, 13-ounce fish — for the Golden Meadow/Fourchon International Tarpon Rodeo,” Tony later explained. “I thought I had that one won, because on the last day it was blowing so hard.
“On the last day, Terry comes in with an 8-pound, 2-ounce rodeo record and topped me.”
After the father-son team finished eating they headed to St. Cyr’s table.
“… (W)e went to him to congratulate him on his win, but I told him he could have waited until the next weekend to catch the fish,” Tony said. “Terry offered up a trip to West Delta the next weekend. We went to the Green Monster in Block 24 and caught 4-pounders.
“That same summer, Terry called me and asked if I saw a picture of ‘the Stringer.’”
The Stringer is a now-legendary stringer of specks caught by Ed Sexton and Warren Coco out of Venice. The 10 largest fish weighed 75 pounds.
The largest trout weighed 10 pounds, 8 ounces and placed 10th in the all-time record books.
“Through mutual friends, Terry worked out a swap: Terry taught (Venice guide) Brandon Carter how to fish with live croakers at Grand Isle, (and) Brandon taught Terry how and where to fish in Venice,” Tony said.
Meanwhile, Tony Bruce bought a swanky camp in Pirate’s Cove Marina. He still wasn’t fully focused on big trout — he didn’t have a full blown case of spotted fever. But he was moving that way.
“The 6-pound, 13-ounce fish made me want to be like Terry and Bootsie Toups and win rodeos,” Bruce admitted.
He would catch croakers in Caminada Bay near his camp and run to Venice to fish with his sons Ross and Chris, and business partner Craig Hunt and his son Stephen.
When St. Cyr introduced Bruce to Sexton’s way of fishing is when Bruce really caught trophy trout fever.
He sold his boat and Grand Isle camp in 2006, and poured all his attention on Venice. At the same time, he shifted his competitive urges from the Grand Isle and Golden Meadow rodeos to the CCA STAR Tournament and the Faux Pas Lodge Invitational Rodeo.
So targeted is Tony Bruce on catching a STAR-worthy speckled trout that he now fishes only during the Venice big trout months of May through August. During this period he and his partners make six to eight multi-day fishing trips.
“My passion is still pretty strong,” he said. “I burn out my partners. The people on the boat now are my most-regular partners. They are the reason for my success.”
Still, Bruce has an itch that will never be scratched until he wins a STAR boat.
“I’ve caught so many 7-pounders, but I’ve never won the STAR,” he said. “I’ve come in second or third three times. My son Chris won the STAR statewide out of my boat. Craig has won his STAR division out of my boat, plus he won the Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo with the same fish.”