HOPEDALE, La. – If one species defines Louisiana’s bountiful inshore fishery, it is the redfish. However, when the Outdoor Channel brought its Saltwater Series Inshore Big Fish Challenge to the Mississippi Delta town of Hopedale, it was the red’s homely cousin that delivered the victory for Capt. Charlie Thomason and Keith Hartsell.
Eligible species were speckled trout, jack crevalle, redfish and black drum. After placing second on day-one with a total weight of 189.25, buoyed by 126.25 pounds of black drum, Thomason and Hartsell decided to put the pedal to the medal and work where they knew they’d find the meat. Committing their entire day to hunting big schools of black drum, the winners amassed a 326.25-pound day-two score that lifted their tournament total to a dominant 515.50.
Tournament format allowed natural and artificial baits and while opinions varied on the best tactics, the winners decided that feeding the fish what they were already eating – live shrimp – was the surest route to success. Moreover, Thomason said that taking a break from the often grueling routine of all-lure tournaments he and Hartsell typically fish was a pleasant change of pace. Capping the premise, he said, the winning tactics carried a solid user-friendly element that makes it easy for others to replicate.
“This tournament was all about biggest fish, biggest weight and catch ‘em anyway you can,” Thomason said. “That’s the fun part. We could have caught them on artificials – maybe not as many – because I catch them here all the time on artificial. But I thought it was interesting that we were able to catch them on something that’s accessible across the entire Gulf Coast, and when people see how we did it, they’ll have the ability to go out and do the exact same thing on their own.”
Thomason, who’s Silver Side Lodges hosted the event, said that he and his partner spent most of their day in the Lake Calabasse area and worked depths of 2-3 feet with live shrimp on 3/8-ounce jigheads. They fished with medium-heavy baitcasting outfits spooled with 30- and 50-pound braid and 30-pound fluorocarbon leaders.
Drum made a sensible target for a couple of reasons. First, they travel in large schools where feeding competition runs high. Anything edible that falls within sniffing range won’t be long for this world. Also, the cold front that arrived two days before the event made the other three species far less cooperative than normal. Meanwhile, the durable drum continued to chew.
As Hartsell noted, the week’s warming trend saw shallow water temperatures rising and that made the drum even more eager to graze. “Every day this week, we gained a couple of degrees and the fishing just got better and better. I think we were up to about 75 degrees by the end of the (fishing) day.”
Holeman’s Settle at Second
After leading day one with 207.5 pounds of black drum and redfish, Florida brothers Travis and Bryan “Bear” Holeman added another 139.50 pounds and slipped to second with a two-day total of 347. They, too, targeted black drum, but their catch also included a redfish.
“We were looking for the drum today because that’s where the weight was,” Travis Holeman said. “At one time, we had two fish on that together would have been close to 85 pounds. Unfortunately, mine came off. It was huge – over 50. It was a giant.”
Bryan Holeman, who boated his fish added: “The one I caught was 38. I waited to throw at this one because we were trying to get the big one to eat. He kept turning away from the bait. Finally, Travis stuck him and I made a shot and hooked mine. The fish were right there next to one another and the other one was so much bigger than mine.”
The Holemans caught most of their fish on spinnerbaits with minnow trailers in purple with green and blue flake and chartreuse tail. Travis also threw the same minnow tail on a ¼-ounce jighead.
“Even if we had capitalized 100 percent across the board, Charlie and Keith just smoked ‘em,” Travis said. “They were on the meat and that was a smart move.”
Fishing a far outside bay by the Gulf edge, tide stage played a big role for the Holeman brothers. The water started falling around 9:30 so Bryan said their best action came between 10 a.m. and noon.
“Once the water dropped out of the grass and cleaned up a little bit so we could see, that gave us about a 30-yard window off the bank where it was clean,” Travis said.
Watts Place Third
Also hailing from the Sunshine State, Greg and Bryan Watts added another 37 pounds to the 148.5 they weighed on day one and ended in third place with 185.5 pounds. Despite the better conditions of day two, the Watts brothers struggled to locate fish and ended up running to the Chalmette area. Ultimately, much of their day boiled down to a lot of running and too little catching.
“We got out on the spot where we caught those big drum and redfish yesterday and we lived there for an hour and a half and saw completely nothing,” Greg said. “Then the tournament mentality kicks in and you think ‘I’ve got to make it happen. I can’t sit here and wait on it. I have to go.’
“So, Bryan and I took off. For two hours we ran south and west back up through the marsh. We were hunting numbers. Give me two or three ponds with 100 fish in each and we’ll pick through them. But it never happened. The water was dirty with that east wind. Everywhere we went, the water was as dirty as I’ve ever seen the Chalmette marsh.”
The Watts brothers caught mostly redfish and one trout on Berkley Gulp! shrimp on Bass Assassin jigheads.
“We have no regrets,” Greg said. “This was a great tournament with a great format. We love everybody here and we love being here. I hope we get to do it again.”