Clayton Shilling is no stranger to the podium when it comes to kayak fishing tournaments. He has won several and regularly finds himself in the money.
“Winning the IFA Kayak Tournament is special,” he said. “I’ve placed in several of the events and even came in second, but this is my first win.”
Although the tournament was based in Houma, Shilling and most of the other competitors chose to drive their kayaks down to Grand Isle knowing that a bull red provides a huge advantage in the tournament’s catch/photo/release format (where the angler that catches the longest total combination of one speckled trout and one redfish comes out on top).
Unlike most, though, Shilling decided to try for his red first and headed straight to Barataria Pass after launching at Sand Dollar marina at the 6 a.m. start time.
“Sometimes the bulls are caught early, so I went straight to the Pass,” he said. “However, I wasn’t seeing anything on the screen and didn’t get a bite.”
He changed strategy and headed over to a nearby rock jetty to try for speckled trout. The tide was high and the water was covering most of the rocks. Pelicans were lined on top of the submerged rocks waiting for baitfish, and Shilling worked the jetty with a popping cork and scored a 14.125-inch speck.
“It wasn’t a giant, but it would get me on the board,” he said.
Shilling continued to work the area in hopes of upgrading to a longer trout, but caught a 23-inch redfish instead.
“I had my two fish, but knew a big red was a must so I headed back to the Pass,” he added.
As Shilling approached, he kept his eyes on the Lowrance screen as the depth climbed from 40 feet until he reached an area ranging from 20, up to about 14 feet.
“It wasn’t long until I spotted those tell-tale arches and knew I had found some fish,” he said. “I jigged a chartreuse Gulp Swimming Mullet rigged on a circle hook to the fish that were holding 2 to 3 feet off the bottom.”
It didn’t take long and Shilling landed a 38-inch bull.
“It was kind of rough out there so I headed to the beach where it would be much easier to get the fish positioned on the measuring board for the required photograph,” he said. “After reviving and releasing the fish, I headed back out to the Pass. Overall, I was gone about 20 minutes.”
Shilling credits spending time to get familiar with his depth finder and making tweaks and adjustments to the settings.
“This was my first time using this particular unit, but once I had it figured out, there was no doubt that I was seeing fish on the screen,” he said.
He wasted no time connecting with another bull. This one was larger and measured out at 42.25 inches, and gave him a combined total length of 56.38 inches, which earned him first place.
How close were the winning lengths? Owen Caraway won second, Arlo Burgos took third and Jimmy Baker won fourth, with each coming in at exactly 56 inches. (Their places were ultimately decided by weigh-in time, with the earliest weigh-in used as the tie breakers.) Fifth place went to Brandon Thibodaux, with a total length of 55.25 inches.
“Sometimes nothing just seems to go right,” Shilling said. “However, everything went smooth for me, and when it’s your day, it’s your day.”
How smooth? Shilling’s win earned him the $1,000 first-place prize, a $400 Anglers’ Advantage cash prize and a Power-Pole Micro valued at $700.
There are a few more out-of-state IFA kayak divisional events before the national championship is held in Grand Isle this October.
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