As I was wrapping up a few extra days of workover here in Louisiana I found out that I was going to be down here during the world famous Tarpon Rodeo fishing derby that takes place every year. Though I was not able to go and actually participate (and party) because I was on duty – I did get a chance to check out the scene.
Officially known at the “International Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo” this year marked the 90th anniversary of the fishing derby and drew record sized crowds – and one record setting fish.
The job I’m on right now requires that I fly in and out of Grand Isle multiple times a day, so I watched in the days leading up to the rodeo as campers filled the main campground, boats filled the marinas, and traffic on the tiny slip of land became so congested that it would rival any major metropolitan area. The offshore guys spoke of the Tarpon rodeo with levity and bright eyes, describing it as one of the most intense parties in Louisiana short of Mardi Gras — And I was going to miss it all because I was on duty.
Grand Isle is a straight shot south from New Orleans and takes just shy of 2 hours to reach from the KMSY by car…30 minutes by helicopter. By a stroke of luck I actually made it into the heliport on the beach in Port Fourchon early one afternoon, so I was able to change clothes and head over to Grand Isle (about 30 minutes away from Fourchon) to check out what all the fuss was about. What I saw looked like an awesome time! I think I might plan on making it to the rodeo next year and wrestling a tarpon or two.
My Uncle Steve is an avid international sports fisherman, and when I spoke with him a few days ago about the rodeo he told me that Tarpon are a great fish to catch, they fight, swim, jump out of the water, and really make you work to hook them.
The main center for the Tarpon Rodeo was a steel frame structure that featured dozens of vendors with goods from fishing shirts to food and the registration tables.
Official weigh in was done at the nearby Marina and was monitored by officials, and law enforcement, I even spotted ATF at the weigh station.
Speaking of law enforcement, this event was not lacking in state, and parrish police presence – in fact it seemed like several neighboring communities had loaned police to help augment the force of LEO’s on the Island for the event.
Boats would pull up to the weigh station and the crew of triumphant fisherman would prepare their catches to be weighed in and added to the official tally
All while nearby spectators crowded into and out of bars and music cranked out over portable spekaers filled the air
Every restaurant had a line at it, and all of the bars on the Island had built outdoor spaces in their parking lots to handle overflow and expand their capacity. One bar had an outdoor DJ playing music just loud enough that you couldn’t hear the bar a few houses down that ALSO had an outdoor DJ.
Every where you went there was a congestion of cars, trucks, boats, and atv’s or side-by-sides like the Polaris Razrs that were everywhere. The beach itself had become a sort of second roadway for the side-by-sides, where people had set up camps, fold up tarps, and were jamming out to music.
Every house on the Island was occupied, most had some sort of large inflatable pool in the front yard or driveway, not for kids – for adults to soak, laugh, and drink in.
All of this was going on BEFORE the sun went down and BEFORE the last boat got back in. I had to work the next morning so I went and had dinner back in Fourchon and went to bed early like I normally do – but the locals I talked to told me that the real partying begins after dark in Grand Isle, and if what I saw on a quick walkthrough and drive on the island is any indication – I believe them.
As for the record fish – a 208 pound Tarpon was caught on the very first day by a man from Houma – shattering the 40 year record.