South of Houma is a paradise to those who fish. From the expansive marshes and friendly folks of Pointe Aux Chenes, to the historic famous fishing island of Grand Isle, the Terrebonne/Lafourche area have given millions of anglers a place to wet a line and get their tug on with briny beast.
But there is one area that all must pass through every trip to Grand Isle that tends to go by the way side. While not as big a fishing destination as the island, it has had a rich history for the Cajun people along Bayou Lafourche. This place is called Leeville, and it is the home of the oldest annual kayak fishing tournament in Louisiana: Paddleplaooza. Some anglers fishing this amazing tounament are unaware at the importance of the area. Paddlepalooza Third place winner Michael Ethridge stated ” I am not that familiar with the history of Leeville outside of it being one of the premier fishing destinations in LA. I am aware that the LA 1 corridor is one of the major arteries for the economy of south LA thanks to Port Fouchon.”
Leeville has a long and very deep past, one punctuated by the forces of mother nature and driven by the need for oil. According to Launch Leeville, a non-profit organization based on keeping the history and lore of the village alive, “Family history has it that Pierre Lee and two of his brothers came to Louisiana from England and were the original founders of the community. ” His ten children settled in the area, with Pierre selling land to families with locally known names like Chouest (pronounced Sh-west) and Bourgeois (pronounced Boo-ghwas).
In 1893, the Cheniere-Caminada Hurricane leveled the area, wiping its namesake from the face of the earth and sending their residents into Leeville proper. They purhcased land in the area, no matter the size tract, for $12.50. The area flourished with orange groves up until 1915, when a massive hurricane slammed into Leeville. Launch Leeville provides “A newspaper article on September 30, 1915 in the New Orleans Times Picayune reported that a violent hurricane had passed over the Barataria Bay… A record low barometric pressure of 28.01 inches at 5:30 PM on September 29, 1915 was reported… Of the 100 houses located in Leeville, it was reported that only one house remained standing in its original site.”
After rebuilding, the oil boom hit lower Louisiana, bringing hundreds of oil rigs and dereks to the area. However, thanks to damming Bayou Laforche further up the bayou and the lack of sediment making it to the estuaries, the land began to sink, reducing the orange groves and livable land to a skeleton of what it once was. But even with the land disappearing, the fishing has never been better.
And that is where Paddlepalooza comes in.
Paddlepalooza has been held in the same place for many years: Top Water Marina, formerly Bobby Lynn’s. It is located right beside Bayou Lafourche, and is the biggest marina before the iconic Gateway to the Gulf bridge that has replaced most of Old Highway 1. Every year around March and April, hundreds of kayakers flock down the bayou to try their hand at catching the biggest “Cajun Slam” of a speckled trout, redfish, and flounder at Paddlepalooza. Reverend Bill Crawford, a long time kayak angler and a preacher in Thibodaux, has been fishing Paddlepalooza for years. “I actually entered into Kayak fishing as a form of recovery from my work after hurricane Katrina. That year I had an excellent run of fishing and felt I was ready to take the plunge and fish Paddlepalooza IV… I had so much fun that I’ve been fishing Paddlepalooza ever since.”
Paddlepalooza had its 12th iteration this year. With 250 plus anglers, it is the second biggest kayak fishing tournament in Louisiana, behind only the world renown and record holding Ride the Bull kayak fishing tournament held in Grand Isle. Jennifer Brunning placed third place in the redfish division. “Paddlepalooza is a large event that has the reputation for being family friendly and guaranteed fun,” the wife of kayak angler Casey Brunning said. “It was a great group that welcomed me in with open arms and showed support for everyone like I’ve never experienced.” The staff of the event is always staffed by volunteers from the Bayou Coast Kayak Fishing Club, with local kayak dealers and outfitters sponsoring the tournament.
The week during the tournament was plagued with horrid weather. In the BCKFC there is an ongoing joke about talking about the weather before one of their tournaments jinxing the clouds to pour. If this is the case, there must have been an entire public forum on the subject. Friday night was the captains meeting for the event. Every year a huge meal is cooked, with plenty of drinks (alcohol and alcohol free, choose your poison!) available along with captains bags. The only time the night becomes quiet is when the rules and regulations are read during the meeting. As the night rolled on, the weather again went from stable to crazy like bipolar woman without her meds.
Gray skies and wind greeted every single person who awoke to fish the event. Jennifer and her husband Casey had their original plans scrapped thanks to the weather. “The storm that hit the morning of the tournament cleared up enough to allow us to launch just a little later than we wanted and I landed a 7.41lb redfish and a 1.21lb trout at our first spot within the first hour. My husband was cheering me on along the way for an added boost. The fishing gods were not in my favor, but that was an easy motivator to spend half the time in the truck waiting for the lightening to stop so I could gear up to jump back in and battle the wind and rain.”
The paddlers went up and down Highway 1 and the other roads in Lafourche. Bill went a different direction than many of the participants. “Leeville often produces winners for Paddlepalooza as does Grand Isle and Fourchon but my comfort zone is slightly further north so I was fishing the Golden Meadow area. Earlier this year Leeville was good to me as I caught a 8.59lb redfish.” Golden Meadow is known to locals as the “Speeding Ticket Capital of Lafourche Parish” due to the strict nature of local law enforcement officers.
Mr. Crawford had his redfish by ten and went after the next two fish needed for his Cajun Slam. “I picked up my flounder in the next hour using a Vortex Shad “Nightreuse” pulled over a spoil bank. The rest of the day just got harder and harder with winds and waves increasing as we were forced into the Lake to look for trout. Conditions were tough approaching unsafe. But I just dropped anchor and waited. It paid off as I caught my trout shortly afterwards finishing my slam.” Usually, flounder are worth their weight in gold during this tournament. Ms. Brunning didn’t have such good luck sadly. ” Unfortunately, some were more successful finding the flounder but I got to reel in a couple other species along the way for fun and have some great new stories to tell.”
In the end, the competition was tough. Many slams were caught, lots of fish were cleaned, and plenty of mouths were fed. As the participants weighed in, the catch was cleaned and promptly fried for everyone to enjoy. The night rolled on with lots of drinking, laughing, and eating, aka a Cajun good time. Soon came the biggest parts of the tournament: the announcement of the winners and the raffle. Bill would take ninth place slam and Jennifer would seize third place redfish. Even with ninth under his belt, Bill was still very happy, and ready for the next tournament. “Though I placed 9th you can be sure I will be back for Paddlepalooza as long as the Lord gives me the ability to pursue this sport.” Jennifer even had the desire to visit Leeville again. “Everyone we encountered in Leeville and the nearby towns were welcoming and kind and there were so many spots I would have loved to have fished. I also plan to be competing again next year in Paddlepalooza 2016.”
The full results of the tournament were as follows:
1st Toby Armand 10.33lbs Hobie Pro Angler 14
2nd Doug Menefee 9.84lbs Hobie Outback
3rd Michael Ethridge 9.76lbs $1000 Backpacker Gift Card and $502
4th Devon Beltz 9.23lbs $1004
5th Mark Brasset 8.18lbs $903
6th Cody Draggo 7.68lbs $753
7th Benton Parrot 7.33 lbs $652
8th Tommy Eubanks 7.11lbs $502
9th Bill Crawford 6.98lbs $401
10th Jeff Robinson 6.82lbs $301
1 Ryan Page 7.71lbs
2 Darla Flannigan 7.61lbs
3 Jennifer Brunnings 7.41lbs
4 Chuck Baham 6.84lbs
5 Norman walker 6.14lbs
1 Darren Kimble 3.86lbs
2 Steve Lessard 3.23lbs
3 Charlie Jones 3lbs
4 Justin Jennings 2.99lbs
5 Harry Flannigan 2.49lbs
1 Tammy Hartley 1.92lbs
2 Zack Lemon 1.73lbs
3 Fred Trahan 1.70lbs
4 Sam Spear 1.69lbs
5 Mark Eubanks 1.65lbs
1 Bryan Hurst 13 spots
2 Jeremy Jenkins 11 spots
3 Herb Leedy 9 Spots
4 Brandon Dozer 8
5 John Thompson 8
Seth Raspberry Red Fish 1.65lbs
Darla Flannigan Red Fish 7.61lbs & Trout 1.63lbs
Next year promises to be an even bigger and better year for everyone. If anyone has a desire for good food, good times, and good fishing, they should come pass a good time down in Leeville, Louisiana for the next Paddlepalooza!
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