Big tarpon kicks off country's oldest fishing tournament


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GRAND ISLE, La. — The oldest fishing tournament in the United States kicked off in grand fashion Thursday with the traditional early bird crowd making some noise on the leaderboard.

Day One of the 86th Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo proved more than anything that being first on the water is important on the often tempestuous Gulf of Mexico.

"We were the first boat out there and were lucky enough to find a few schools of fish and put a good one on the board," said Al Domangue, captain of the Noprat II out of Houma, La.

Domangue's son, Dane, hooked up on the morning's second cast into a school of tarpon. After a 20-minute fight, the crew sunk a gaff into the 153-pound, 1-ounce silver king. The catch, weighed by officials at around 10:45 a.m., ensured the young angler of the tournament's first tarpon award and puts him in good position to make the top three.

The Tarpon Rodeo, established in 1928, historically swells the sleepy fishing village (population of 1,541) on Louisiana's only inhabited barrier island to 20,000.

Fishing began at sunrise Thursday morning and the scales close at 6 p.m. Saturday, though partying by participants and onlookers will continue well into the night.

Tarpon isn't the only fish eligible for prizes, which consist mainly of simple plaques and bragging rights for the next 52 weeks. Twenty seven other species, such as blue marlin, cobia, red snapper and speckled trout, have over 2,000 entrants from all over the U.S. and several other countries.

The overall first prize for the GITR is a 2008 Champion Coastal Champ, complete with a 150 Mercury Optimax and 24 volt MotorGuide Great White trolling motor.

Domangue hung his first day leader in the West Delta blocks — territorial quadrants laid out by the government to specify oil and gas leases, where tarpon annually push through during the late summer months. Situated in 40-100 feet of water, the area is speckled by oil rigs, but tarpon are generally found in open water feeding or travelling amongst the vast schools of menhaden or other baitfish.

The calm consistent with summer weather was present for just a short time Thursday morning as storms riled over the subtropical Gulf waters.

"It wasn't too bad when we first got out there, but there was some weather coming when we left," said the younger Domangue.

The event also has a Tag and Release Division, which are counted over the three-day tournament.

The bait of choice for the crew of the Noprat II, as it is for the majority of the fleet targeting silver kings, was a Coon Pop. Popularized by legendary tarpon captain "Coon" Schouest, the lure is a large circle hook attached to a lead head and soft plastic tail combination. Upon the fish's first violent, head-shaking jump, the lead and plastic is expelled, leaving the fish and angler to duke it out with just the circle hook and heavy mono leader.