Solari and his “goal STAR” trout

John Solari with his 2020 STAR champion 29-inch long, 8.27-pound speckled trout.
John Solari with his 2020 STAR champion 29-inch long, 8.27-pound speckled trout.

Yo, Holmes, we did it!

When John Solari reeled in his 29-inch long, 8.27 pound speckled trout somewhere off Calcasieu Point, he landed more than just another big speck. It was a “goal STAR” trout moment.  It had been a long time coming.

“Back in 2005, my best friend, Stephen Lanza, and I made a pact that we were going to catch the biggest trout and win the CCA’s STAR rodeo one day and we said no matter who caught the fish, we’d split the prize,” the 36-year-old from Jennings said. “This has been a goal for 15 years and even though not a lot has gone right in 2020, this is one thing that sure did.”

If you happened to glance at Solari’s Facebook page and see the video he put together, now you’ll understand his message, “Yo Holmes, we did it.”  Holmes is Lanza’s nickname.

The dream

The story actually starts back in 2005 when the two were college friends at McNeese State University. They started fishing together every chance they got and even coordinated scheduling classes to make sure they had plenty of time for fishing trips together.

The duo finally reached their goal at 10:47 a.m., Saturday, July 18. It didn’t come as an accident.

“Holmes can’t fish in the STAR because he’s an active guide now (He runs Trout Mouth Charters),” Solari said. “So I was fishing by myself in another tournament, the Salty Catch.  It’s a two-day tournament and you could start fishing at one minute after midnight, so I got to my spot, anchored and started fishing. I caught a few on topwaters, but I was really waiting on daylight so I could use my cast net and get some bait. I just took a nap there in the boat.”

“My goal was to try and catch a 6-pound plus trout because this time of year, the great big ones are rare. At 6:15, the sun came up and I caught about 30 mullet. I caught a few good trout, but not what I needed. I stayed anchored on that one spot and at 10:47, I landed the big one.”

The big winner

Solari said it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. First of all, he had to muster up plenty of patience to sit on the spot that he knew could produce a big one that could win the tournament. It was near a deep spot with 60 feet of water where the fish laid up to cool off. But the trout would pull up into a two to three foot deep flat to feed and that’s when he would catch them. He would see the big trout swim up into the shallows and feed. That’s when he would cast to them.

“Oh my goodness, when I hooked the fish I had to scramble around and get the net,” he recalls. “I didn’t see that one. I had seen a couple that would maybe go six pounds, but it was obvious he was bigger than that when he started splashing on the surface. Three times it jumped out of the net and I was afraid it would get off. But it didn’t.”

The trout won the Salty Catch tournament and held on as the biggest trout of the 108-day long STAR (Statewide Tournament and Anglers Rodeo) as well. The STAR has over 13,000 participants each year and is a major fundraiser for the Coastal Conservation Association. For his catch, Solari won a fully rigged 2140 Sport Nautica boat with a 150 horsepower Mercury.

“We haven’t exactly figured out how Holmes and I are going to split that but I’m sticking to our agreement,” he says. “We’ll work something out.”

Big trout

Solari strictly targets big trout. In fact, he and Lanza were actually featured in an eight page spread in the July 2009 Louisiana Sportsman in an article entitled Big trout tactics from two STAR contestants and he had his photo on the cover with a nine pound trout.

“I guess we’ve come full circle,” he said. “We’ve always caught a lot of trout and done well in the STAR, but this is the first time to win. It’s pretty exciting.”

John Solari’s sons, Tripp and Phillip, show off their dad’s STAR champion trout.
John Solari’s sons, Tripp and Phillip, show off their dad’s STAR champion trout.

And speaking of exciting, no matter how many big trout he catches, it still gets the SASOL Westlake Chemical plant employee fired up and his heart beating fast.

“As soon as I got it in the boat and calmed down enough to drive the boat, I headed to Calcasieu Point to weigh it on their certified scales,” he said. “I was shaking so bad I could barely fill out the paperwork. I just knew that fish would win the STAR.”

And when he heard about it his partner Holmes, was, too.

“He was more excited than me,” Solari said. “He had gone on a family vacation to Florida but I couldn’t wait to tell him.”

A family affair

Speckled trout fishing is a family affair for “Team Solari.” John and his wife, Kerry, have sons 7-year-old Tripp and 4-year-old Phillip both loving to fish. And they are pretty good at it. Tripp even won second place in the Salty Catch youth division this summer.

For more information on the CCA or the STAR tournaments, check out the Coastal Conservation Association’s Facebook page or their website.

About Kinny Haddox 592 Articles
Kinny Haddox has been writing magazine and newspaper articles about the outdoors in Louisiana for 45 years. He publishes a daily website, and is a member of the Louisiana Chapter of the Outdoor Legends Hall of Fame. He and his wife, DiAnne, live in West Monroe.