MERMENTAU, La. -- It's not often that catching a choupique will earn first place in a fishing tournament. But it happened at the first annual Fishing For Kids Tournament at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church. Twice.
For those who live outside Cajun country, a choupique (pronounced "shoe-pick") is better known elsewhere as a bowfin, grinnel or mudfish. It has a long list of other nicknames, like swamp muskie, swamp bass, beaverfish, and cypress trout.
A choupique is considered a "rough fish" rather than a "game fish," and features a sharp set of kid-unfriendly teeth. But 7-year-old Ross Miller never hesitated in putting his hands around the 3.60-pound choupique he caught. Walking up the steps to the weigh-in stage, Miller was justifiably proud.
Choupiques and excited kids: only in southern Louisiana. You probably thought New Orleans had all the thrills down this way.
When it's time to schedule the second annual Fishing for Kids Tournament, members of the St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church won't pick the opening weekend of teal hunting season. But this was a first-time event, so they made the best of it. And it provided a nice mid-day diversion for some teal-hunting visitors from Arkansas.
St. John the Evangelist in Mermentau (pop. 692) is no different than other small Catholic church in Cajun country; they know how to make the best of any occasion. Laissez les bons temps rouler. (Let the good times roll.) When you've lived among a bunch of Southern Baptists in the Bible Belt, it's a pleasant surprise to see beer for sale at a church bazaar, especially on a hot, mid-September Saturday.
The kids fishing tournament was an addition to the church's traditional two-day bazaar, which includes games, an auction and food for sale - tables and tables of savory southern Louisiana food.
Opening weekend of teal season is a big deal around here. So the number of participants and, equally important, the number of adults willingly to accompany them, was less than it could have been. But teal hunting didn't tempt everyone.
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"Dad, if I can fish, I'm going to miss teal season," is how one man recounted his son's reaction to the announcement of the tournament.
"It was bad timing this year, but you've got to learn first," said Chuck Martin. He and his wife, Millie, were the primary organizers of the event.
A flatbed trailer was parked on the church grounds to serve as a stage. A public address system had been setup. There were tents in place to provide much-needed shade for spectators. And just like at every Bassmaster Elite Series event, the national anthem was played before the first fish was weighed. Church members had invited local Elite Series angler Dennis Tietje to serve as the emcee for the weigh-in, a job Tietje accepted without a second thought.
"This is how I got started," Tietje said. "I looked at the guy who was winning (local tournaments), and that's who I wanted to be. This is how I cut my teeth."
Tournament rules required a $25 entry fee per boat, with at least one adult and one child in each boat. Several adults took a boatload of kids, best exemplified by Richard Myers and his four sons - Ross, age 10, Camden, 8, Brody, 7, and Parker, 6.
There were prizes given in two age categories: under 10 and 11-17. The most entertaining rule of the event allowed any species of fish to be weighed-in, hence the choupique, actually, multiple choupiques. There were also bluegill, redear, crappie, catfish and, yes, a few bass brought across the weigh-in stage by young anglers.
Ross Miller's choupique got edged by two-hundreds of a pound for first place in the under 10 division. Eight-year-old Cami Castro caught a choupique weighing 3.62 pounds. Her younger sister, Isabel, 6, took third place with a 1.23-pound catfish.
In the 11 to 17 age group, Christopher Breaux took first place with a 3.75-pound choupique caught on a spinnerbait. Trace Benoit was second with a 1.70-pound bass. Logan Warner was third with a 1.42-pound bass.
The top three in each division received plaques. Every kid got a fishing-related prize of some sort. There were prizes for the participating adults as well.
Then it was time to get the party/church bazaar started.
"Thank you for letting me be a part of this," said Tietje, who seemed to have almost as much fun emceeing the event as the kids did in participating.
It's not every day that you see a choupique take first place in a fishing contest, twice.