By Chris Holmes
What happens when hundreds and hundreds of kayak tournament anglers mass-launch at Grand Isle in search of bull redfish?
You set a new world record, that’s what happens.
This past Saturday, the Ride the Bull IV Extreme Kayak Fishing Tournament made its mark on kayak fishing history with 523 registered entrants and 488 kayaks in the water on tournament day.
The Grand Isle tournament eclipsed the famed JAX Classic tournament in Jacksonville, Fla., which has held the record as the world’s largest kayak fishing tournament for many years. The JAX tournament’s all-time best was 2012, with 435 registered entrants and 407 kayaks in the water.
Bridgeside Marina was buzzing with activity early Saturday as kayak anglers from several states and as far away as Hawaii readied their gear and prayed for a break in the stormy weather.
The creator of Ride the Bull, Capt. Danny Wray, is as laid back as they come. But as Saturday morning’s storms threatened to delay or scuttle the event entirely, he was as unsettled as the weather.
“We don’t gamble on safety. Kayaks can’t outrun the storms and they certainly can’t outrun lightning,” Wray said.
He conferred with tournament assistants and checked and re-checked the radar to get a handle on the surrounding weather. As the 7:30 a.m. shotgun start approached, light rain persisted, but angry storms miraculously parted at the west end of the island.
It was go time.
Hundreds of kayakers staged in the channel leading to Bridgeside and an adjoining beach area. Wray blasted an air horn and turned the floating throngs loose: amid screams and hollering, the plastic armada quickly scattered into the pass and headed for their honey-holes.
Proving that this is no ordinary kayak fishing tournament, one contestant paddled by in a multicolored clown wig, another in a jester hat. Previous years have seen real bull horns affixed to the bow of several ‘yaks.
But this tournament is as much about fun as it is about competition. There’s no solitary fishing here: the anglers pile up in a confined boundary in Caminada Pass and are close enough to hold friendly conversations.
The fishing started slowly until a school of big reds moved in, and there were bent rods in all directions. The assist boats were frantically ferrying in two to three live bull reds at a time for weighing, tagging and releasing.
Then the tide started rolling out and the bite turned off… but that’s fishing.
Although the rain was annoying, it was a cool relief from the August heat and there was no lightning. With the bite turned off, many of the participants decided to call it an early day or moved to a different area. But they were greeted with a relentless tidal flow and strong winds.
Though soaking wet and worn out, the common sentiment among participants was that they couldn’t wait to do it again next year.
Several lucky anglers did manage to “ride the bull” during that short window and found themselves in the hunt for thousands of dollars in kayaks and cash prizes.
When it was all said and done, Jeff Gleason’s 32.96-pound bull led the final leader board, and he took home a brand new Hobie Pro Angler 12 and $2,200 in cash.
Once again, it took a red over 24 pounds just to make it into the top ten.
Herald-Guide Executive Editor Ann Taylor, of Luling, also cracked the leaderboard after catching a 28.98-pound bull red. Her catch was good enough for fifth-place out of nearly 500 competitors.
Billed as a day of “Peace & Kayak Fishing,” Ride the Bull has taken on the unofficial moniker of “Yakstock” and coincidentally fell on the 44th anniversary of the iconic Woodstock Music festival.
One of the producers of Woodstock said, “That’s what means the most to me – the connection to one another felt by all of us who worked on the festival and all those who came to it…”
If you were at either event, you would understand the sentiment.