There’s an old saying that “records are made to be broken.” And, when Jeanerette resident Matthew Fitch was invited to join the crew of the Sea Mistress, captained by his cousin Jacques Hebert, to participate in the 59th annual Iberia Rod & Gun Club Saltwater Rodeo this past weekend, it probably never entered his mind how close he’d come to breaking one.
On Saturday, somewhere around 100 miles offshore, fighting 6-foot seas in Eugene Island Block 360, the crew was trolling for wahoo in between and around rigs.
“The weather wasn’t extremely rough, but it wasn’t calm, either,” Fitch said in describing the conditions they fished in. “It got rough Saturday and that’s the only thing you’ve got to watch out for. Sometimes it can get pretty rough out there, and we probably got into 6-foot seas at one point. I don’t go far out on a regular basis like that. I have a bay boat and do a lot of redfish and speck fishing — I do a whole lot of that. But, I don’t go far out like that. We actually kept trolling through it. You can’t run through it. You just got to troll through it.”
Other vessels that competed in the offshore division of the rodeo went even further out, chasing yellow-fin tuna. These anglers went as far as 150 to 160 miles into the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico in pursuit of their quarry.
Describing the trolling arrangement, Fitch says the Sea Mistress tows four lines at a time with artificial baits attached, of which one typically trails the others. The furthest line out was what he referred to as the slower bait. According to the angler, the fish they targeted typically, though not always, strikes one of the trailing baits in the back of the others.
With rigging out and the boat trolling heavy tackle in high seas, Fitch’s fish struck.
Fitch said, “He was a decent fighter, but when you troll at 8 or 9 knots, a smaller fish gets kind of worn out, because they strike and the boat is still going, and it kind of drags the fish. But, he fought pretty good and we thought we had a decent size fish.”
Fitch’s fish turned out to be a horse-eye jack, a fairly common pelagic species of fish that swims in fairly large schools. Though the species wasn’t one the crew was targeting, it had potential.
“We thought about throwing him back,” Fitch said. “But, the boat captain told me he thought it was going to be a state record and should probably keep the fish. So we ended up keeping it. I had to fight the rest of the crew off all weekend to not cut up my state record and use it for bait.”
The Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association is holder of the state’s fish records and lists horse-eye jacks as one of its recognized saltwater species. The current state record for horse-eye jacks is 27.5 pounds.
Fitch’s fish weighed unofficially 25.9 pounds, which would have placed him solidly in sixth place had he chosen to weigh the fish on an official scale and the weight held. Only one pound and a few ounces separated his fish from first place in the record books.
With five first-place fish, three second-place fish and three third-place fish in various categories, such as black-fin tuna, yellow-fin tuna and snapper, it was more than enough for the boat and crew when they came in Sunday to capture first place in the Offshore Division. The finish helped their captain win the coveted Boat Captain’s Award.
Crewmate Paul Migues won the Best All-Around Fisherman Award for the tournament with three first-place fish — one a huge 60.5 pound grouper. Fitch’s horse-eye jack won first place in the Exotic Fish category.
Fitch, in reflecting on the big win, had nothing but high praise for his captain saying, “We had a great weekend and it was all because of the boat captain. We could have stayed out there and picked up black-fin tuna all weekend and loaded the boat where you couldn’t go back it would be so heavy. But, he knows how to fish, and we targeted individual species that have a slot in the rodeo. You have 10 to 12 species of fish with first-, second- and third-place in each category, and we went out to catch as many species as we could. That’s how we won.”
When asked what his plans were for the horse-eye jack, Fitch said, “I’m not going (to) mount it or anything — I’m just going to go out there and try and catch a first-place one.”
Apparently, some records are made to be broken …
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