“Unreel” boat helps angler capture prize STAR catch

Abbeville offshore fisherman Gary Trahan caught his S.T.A.R.-winning mangrove snapper the first weekend of June while fishing a fundraising contest aboard his friend’s homemade aluminum boat, Unreel. Trahan said imagine an Airstream on top of a pontoon boat and that’s what you get.

Of all the people who fished CCA Louisiana’s STAR in 2022, none were in a boat quite like Unreel.

And of all the people who fished that STAR season, no one had a mangrove snapper as big as the 14.05-pounder hooked and boated by Unreel crew member Gary Trahan. The Abbeville saltwater fishermen loves to go offshore in that unconventional, homemade aluminum boat — once he got over his trepidation five years ago.

The 50-foot long, 16-foot wide aluminum boat that resembles “an Airstream camper on top of a pontoon boat,” powered by two 350-h.p. Yamahas and built by a close friend, got Trahan to an oil field platform in the Eugene Island blocks that first weekend of June 2022.

Gary Trahan’s 14.05-pound mangrove snapper, caught the first weekend of June during the Fishing for Memories fundraising tournament for fighting Altzheimer’s, won the division of the S.T.A.R. tournament in 2022.

Doing well

Trahan was fishing with his son, Hatch Trahan of Abbeville; Troy Gardner of Lafayette, Unreel’s boat captain; Chance Thomas and his son, Gavin Thomas, both of Maurice; Patrick Poupart of Lafayette, and Jason Vecker of Abbeville.

“We were doing well,” Trahan said. “We had been mostly trolling and trying to pick up wahoo and king mackerel. We did all right, nothing super. We pulled up to a platform, tied up, and they were playing around dropping for grouper in the back.

“I walked up front. There was not a whole lot of life. It was kind of pitiful looking. All of a sudden I saw a mangrove come out from the legs. I could tell it was a big one, above normal average size.”

Trahan, 54, tried to entice the large mangrove snapper that was playing hide-and-seek to come out from the platform’s legs and eat any one of the traditional baits he dropped down to it. What unfolded was a 45-minute drama with a happy ending.

“I always bring a bunch of different things,” he said. “I had been trying to use cut pogey, nothing. Whole pogey, nothing.”

He had another trick up his sleeve. He always brings regular ol’ market shrimp along, so he impaled that on the hook and served it.

Trahan holds the big mangrove snapper he caught in the Eugene Island blocks of the Gulf of Mexico. The fish soared to the top of the S.T.A.R. leaderboard and through some nerve-wracking months stayed there to win that division in 2022.

Still, it took a commotion to get the mangrove snapper to dine on the shrimp. The disturbance came from the back of the boat when a crew member hooked a lemonfish that came out fighting.

Trahan remembers the moment well and said, “About that time we hooked a cobia. When it started thrashing around, it aggravated him (the mangrove snapper). He came out and picked up my bait. Once I hooked him I said, ‘Good fish!’”

The fight lasted 6 to 8 minutes, but seemed like an hour, he said.

Once he got the big mangrove snapper in the boat, the crew members and close-knit friends played him after they put it on a digital scale.

“They said, ‘Oh, he weighs 13 pounds.’ (But) all that time they knew it was 14 pounds. They didn’t tell me. The captain said, ‘They were afraid to tell you because you’d either fall off the boat (via fainting or something like that) or quit fishing,’” Trahan said with a big belly laugh.

And that was that. The mangrove snapper won the saltwater fishing tournament that weekend and soared to the top of the STAR leaderboard.

A family affair

Trahan, a self-employed agricultural mechanic since 1987, finally got over the hump with a winning mangrove snapper in S.T.A.R. He finished third in the mangrove snapper division with fish in the upper 12-pound category in 2020 and 2021.

Gary Trahan’s grandson, Wyatt James Trahan, 7, is a member of S.T.A.R., as are his parents and grandparents. Gary Trahan, who won the S.T.A.R.’s mangrove division last year, said the family enjoys fishing the event each year from Memorial Day weekend, May 27, to 5 p.m. Labor Day.

Trahan is one of the biggest CCA STAR fans along the Louisiana coast. It’s a family affair for him.

“I have nothing but good things to say about it,” he said. “We all enjoy it. All my family participates … My wife, Nancy, our son, Hatch, our daughter-in-law, Brittany, and our grandson, Wyatt James Trahan (7 years old).”

He can’t wait to fish this year’s tournament. The 2023 S.T.A.R. event gets underway May 27 and ends at 5 p.m. Labor Day Monday. For more information go to ccastar.com.

And, yes, Trahan will be aboard the Unreel when he tries to defend his title as mangrove snapper king. It took a while for him to warm up to the boat his buddy, Allen Lemaire, was building several years ago.

Trahan was very leery, to say the least.

“As he (Lemaire) was building it, he said, “Hey, when you going to come fishing with us,’” he said.

Trahan’s answer wasn’t “no” but “heck no.” He told his buddy he wanted to see people go out and return with appendages and all intact.


Trahan said, as it was being built, “Like he (Lemaire) said, ‘I had a dream.’ He said, ‘It’d (either) be one helluva offshore fishing boat or one helluva houseboat.’ ”

“It’s both,” Trahan said, emphatically, noting the pontoons are equally weighted with fuel tanks, water tanks and generator inside the two pontoons.

Unreel made many uneventful trips. Trahan, who joined them starting five years ago, became the boat’s biggest defender and promoter.

“It might not be the prettiest thing in the world. But it’s very comfortable. It rides really well. Eight bunks. A/C. Everything. It’s like being at home,” Trahan said.

The boat sure raises eyebrows on the water.

“Oh my God. You should hear the traffic when you turn VHF on,” Trahan said as he recalled listening to beaucoup incredulous comments over the airwaves whenever others on the high seas spot Unreel.

When others see for themselves how comfortably it fishes in competition and for fun, the crew is bombarded with questions like, “Do you charter?”

No. But Unreel as it gets, the boat does deliver winners like Trahan’s mangrove snapper the first weekend of June.

About Don Shoopman 559 Articles
Don Shoopman fishes for freshwater and saltwater species mostly in and around the Atchafalaya Basin and Vermilion Bay. He moved to the Sportsman’s Paradise in 1976, and he and his wife June live in New Iberia. They have two grown sons.