Specks and Spice, and Everything Nice

It’s more than luck that makes young Amy Weaver one of the most consistent anglers in the Save Our Lake Rodeo.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth installment of a 12-part series introducing readers to young Louisianians who have accomplished great things in the outdoors. Louisiana Sportsman Editor Todd Masson pulled a ticket out of a box at the 2005 Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association annual conference in Houma. He called the name on the ticket, “Amy Weaver.”

After Amy grabbed her door prize from Masson, he stuck his hand back in the box and pulled another ticket and called the name. “Amy Weaver,” he repeated.

The crowd of writers and their families started to chuckle.

With some more prizes left to give away, Masson pulled another ticket … Amy Weaver … and another … Amy Weaver.

By this time, the crowded room was in an uproar, and voices could be heard inviting Amy on fishing trips or to buy some lottery tickets.

“The next prize was a pretty big T-Shirt,” Amy recalled. “The guy up there pulling the tickets [Masson] made a joke about how I better not win this one because the shirt was too big for me. I looked at the ticket when he called the number, and I missed it by only one number.”

Weaver was in Houma because she had entered a photograph of a black Labrador in the annual LOWA Youth Journalism Contest that captured second place. This wasn’t her first entry in the photography side of the contest. She entered a photograph of her dad casting a line the year before that placed third.

All contest winners and their families are invited to the annual LOWA conference each year to receive their cash prizes and certificates, but Weaver took home more than that at the 2005 conference. She took home several door prizes as well.

“My dad has always taken a camera everywhere we go,” Amy said. “He would be just like, ‘Here, Amy, let’s go take a picture.’ I would take a picture of him, then he would take a picture of me. Somehow, my pictures seemed to come out better than his.”

“That’s the truth,” said Amy’s dad, Chris Weaver. “Hers are always beautiful, and mine always come out looking a little worse. She just seems to have an eye for a picture. We have been traveling on the road only to have her ask me to stop because she saw a pretty sunset or a pelican on a piling.”

Amy, who is an 8th grade student at Monteleone Junior High in Mandeville, plans on entering the Youth Journalism Contest again this year.

“If I can get a picture I think is good enough,” she added.

While Louisiana outdoor writers know Amy from her lucky streak at the Houma conference, most everybody else knows Amy from her near dominance at the annual Save Our Lake fishing rodeo on Lake Pontchartrain. The rodeos are held every April, and Amy has fished every event since the second one.

“Amy didn’t win anything the first year she fished it,” Weaver said, “but she was lucky enough to win one of the big raffle prizes, which was a fishing pole. She’s placed every year she has fished it since then, and she even won the Little Kahuna category one year, which is a category for the redfish with the most spots. Her winning red had 26 spots — 14 more than the second place fish.”

One outdoor communicator in particular who knows exactly how good Amy is at catching fish is Don Dubuc. Dubuc, who serves as master of ceremonies for the rodeo, was so impressed by Amy at one of the rodeos he did a radio spot about her and made a note that she was going to be an up-and-coming sportswoman in the future.

Last year, Amy fished the Christmas tree reefs off Bonnabel and a reef that her dad called Weaver’s Reef, the remnants of an old fishing camp just over the levee that is gone today. However, there is still cover under where it used to stand that still holds fish. Weaver said he and Amy pick up a few nice fish there every time they stop by it.

“We also fish the Causeway a pretty good bit during the rodeo,” Weaver added. “It’s actually our first choice, and Weaver’s Reef is our second choice. Both have been good to Amy because she has caught fish in those two places every rodeo.”

Amy, a BETA Club member who is just as at home in her advanced algebra class as she is in a bay boat, said she enjoys fishing the Save Our Lake rodeos, or any rodeo for that matter, because she gets something to show for her effort.

“It’s neat to be able to win something that you can kind of show off,” she said. “Rodeos are great for any kid to get involved in. You don’t even have to have a boat. I think you can catch some pretty big fish off land, but going with a parent or other relative that has a boat can help you catch some even bigger fish. Just don’t let the fact that you don’t have a boat keep you from entering the rodeo.”

One of the baits that Amy has relied on to help her catch fish during the rodeo is a Deadly Dudley, but she admits that she will throw anything it takes to get a bite. She said that tipping a soft plastic with a piece of shrimp could help attract more bites. She’s also subject to toss out a sparkle beetle every now and then.

“We’ve caught speckled trout on everything from topwaters to spoons to live bait like fingerling mullets,” she said. “And when we fish for the big jacks, we use cut bait like pogie.”

Weaver knew his daughter was going to be something special when he first started taking her fishing at Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier at Ft. Walton Beach, Fla. This is a place that he was introduced to as a child, and he made sure to pass the tradition on to Amy.

“I can’t really remember the first fish I caught or anything like that,” Amy said, “but I can remember Dad taking me to that big pier in Florida. We used to catch tarpon, kings and bonito right off the side of it. I can also remember when I was really little that I used to catch these little baitfish off the pier.”

Amy’s telling of that story made Weaver begin to reminisce.

“Amy would catch those little cigar minnows by fishing straight down by the legs of the pier,” he said. “She would bring me a minnow then go catch another one. She always kept me supplied with fresh bait. I always let her finish battling each of the fish I hooked — that was kind of her reward for keeping me supplied with bait.”

Weaver knew his daughter was something special, though, when he looked back one time and found Amy taking cigar minnows to everybody else on the pier. She used to catch those little minnows on what amounted to a piece of red ribbon that had some netting over it.

Unfortunately for Amy, and other kids for that matter, the ribbon lure was outlawed when the gill net ban went into effect. The net around the ribbon was considered a gill net, thus it had to go too. Weaver considered this to be somewhat of a shame because it was a great little lure for kids because it didn’t have a hook, and he could let Amy use it all day without having to worry about her hooking herself or somebody else.

“That pier is a great place to take kids fishing, though,” said Weaver. “We’ve seen people catch 50- and 60-pound cobia off the pier. This is also the pier that got a lot of national exposure a while back when somebody caught a 600-pound mako shark from it. You can catch just about anything there from tarpon to sailfish, wahoo and dolphin.”

Even though the action in Florida is fast enough to keep Amy interested, there is a place close to her dad’s house in Bucktown that offers some of the hardest-fighting fish she has ever caught.

West End Point comes out at West End Harbor at the end of Breakwater Drive in Lake Pontchartrain, and it has a beacon out there where Amy and her day often set up shop to battle the jacks. Weaver said this a great place to take a family fishing because you can back the car right up to where you’re fishing with your cold drinks, sandwiches and everything else you need right there.

“I like fighting the jacks,” Amy said, “but more often than not, I’ll run around and try to catch a crab with some bait on a big hook. The crabs will grab it, and I yank them out of the water. We usually either fish with them or just throw them back. Sometimes, though, we might use them for sheepshead bait.

“You’ve also got a good chance at catching a big redfish or flounder right there during the summer. It can get a little crowded, though. It’s actually funny when somebody hooks into a big jack because everybody starts running around trying to get their lines out of the way, but they all get tangled up anyway.”

One of the things that a life-long exposure to fishing has done for Amy is create a fascination for the natural world. Ask her what she likes most about fishing, and you’ll hear more about watching dolphins, jellyfish, sea turtles or blue herons than you do about fishing.

“Amy has always said she wanted to get involved working as a zookeeper,” said Mary Beth Burke, Amy’s mother. “She’s now a volunteer at the Audubon Zoo as a Junior Zookeeper. I thought this experience would help her see first-hand what the experience was like.

“The application process was very much like applying for a job. There were several hundred applicants, and they only kept 15 boys and 15 girls. Amy made it through, and she loves it. She works there on Sundays during the school year and five days a week during the summer.”

Amy has worked in the past as a guide on the Discovery Walks. She gets to hold animals and tell people about them and the zoo in general. Her passion about the natural world was evident when her voice became more animated as she talked about her experience.

“The kinds of animals you can hold as a Junior Zookeeper is based on what stage you’re in,” she said. “Beginners start off with things like Madagascar hissing cockroaches. The intermediate level can hold some really cool things like baby alligators, chinchillas, rabbits and the speckled king snake. Advanced keepers get to work with ferrets and big birds of prey.”

If you’re getting the picture by now that Amy Weaver is just a little bit lucky, you wouldn’t get any arguments from her parents. Her dad believes she is the luckiest person he has every known, and her mom said Amy is one of those people who just seems to be good at everything she does.

“It’s really bizarre,” said Burke. “It doesn’t matter if it’s fishing, algebra, the Social Studies Fair, the Science Fair or soccer. She always seems to win or place in any contest she enters.

“Take the Youth Journalism Contest for example; she’s placed in that every time she’s entered, and the Save Our Lake Rodeo, she’s placed in that almost every year.

“She always said the two things she wanted to do were to be a zookeeper and a photographer for National Geographic, and she’s got just enough drive to do it.”

Nobody’s going to bet against Amy becoming a zookeeper that freelances as a photographer for National Geographic. Nobody is going to bet against her placing again in the Save Our Lake Rodeo this year either.

In fact, if you’re out there at the rodeo this year, stop by and look at the leader board. More than likely, you’ll see “Amy Weaver” written in black Sharpie somewhere on that board.

About Chris Ginn 778 Articles
Chris Ginn has been covering hunting and fishing in Louisiana since 1998. He lives with his wife Jennifer and children Matthew and Rebecca along the Bogue Chitto River in rural Washington Parish. His blog can be found at chrisginn.com.