CYPREMORT POINT — Before the hour of reckoning at the scale June 6, Keo Khamphilavong and his veteran crew knew their chances of winning the Southcentral Fishing Association’s second tournament hinged on one redfish on ice after being caught inside Marsh Island.
They were talking about it, even got it out of the ice chest, minutes before the 3 p.m. weigh-in at the pavilion along Quintana Canal Boat Landing, where 17 boats returned after a 6 a.m. start that Saturday. That redfish had to be within the “slot” limit of 16 to 27 inches but was oh-so close when it was caught.
Khamphilavong took three redfish nose down in a 5-gallon bucket to the electronic scale manned by weighmaster Matt Landry, just in case. The limit is two “slot” redfish and if the big’un busted the line, the third choice would take its place.
The 55-year-old outdoorsman pumped his fist when SFA president Gerrit “T-Blu” Landry, who measured all the tournament’s redfish, put it on the board and gave the thumbs up. It weighed 8 pounds.
“Yeah, that’s nice when you can get a fish like that. It was right at 26 7/8 inches. It was so close. I know how the boards are over there,” Khamphilavong said a few days after he and his crew of Craig Landry and Randy Migues topped the 17-boat field with 15.25 pounds for $595.
“The big fish made the difference. I think the next size up (their alternate) with 24 inches,” Khamphilavong said, noting he believes they might have finished third if that biggest redfish, an 8-pounder, didn’t make it.
Craig Landry agreed and said, “We knew that was it. The other one was 26 ¼ inches. That’s what we were looking for. That was the big one.”
It was a rewarding finish after a tough day of fishing mixed with unfavorable weather conditions the day before the arrival of Tropical Storm Cristobal. High winds associated with TS Cristobal whipped up the waves in and around Vermilion Bay.
“They must have had 5-, 6-foot seas in the Bay, man,” said the skipper of the 22-foot Blazer Bay. “The outer bands were coming in. With a band, the rain came in tremendous. That weather was rough.”
Most boats returned well ahead of the weigh-in hour to recover from the pounding. Their boats were parked in a row in the parking lot.
Brooks Amy and his crew of Perry Scott and Jacob Fisher were in the long line of boats and tow vehicles parked side by side, relieved and happy to be on terra firma.
“Thank God we made it home,” Scott said.
“We’ve been in worse,” Amy, his stepson and skipper, said after his boat finished fourth with two redfish weighing 12.80 pounds worth $135.
Khamphilavong, Landry and Migues switched abruptly from catching speckled trout, which they have been doing consistently in near-offshore waters (Ship Shoal blocks) to redfish. The redfish fishing was much tougher while targeting a duck pond and another area on Marsh Island.
“The day before, we went we caught some big (red)fish. We caught big (red)fish Friday. But when the weather changed, it messed up everything. We had three spots. We were able to fish two of them,” he said.
“We had a tough day. We had seven fish but we had five good fish,” he said.
They caught their redfish with shrimp on a ¼-ounce leadhead approximately 18 inches below a popping cork. The 8-pounder the three anglers held their breath over was the second-to-last redfish caught and the luckiest catch of all, according to the angler who caught it.
“It was pure luck. He ate the cork. He came up and sucked the cork like a topwater lure,” said Migues, 64-year-old retired carpenter/foreman for the Iberia Parish School Board. He noted the cork was brown and oval.
“He sucked it up like a bass would hit it. He must have pulled the cork all the way down to the hook. As soon as we put him in the boat, the hook and cork came out of his mouth. That was the highlight of the trip for me.”
That big redfish was one of three he caught. His tournament partners each put two in the boat.
Khamphilavong, who has owned Khamphilavong Construction Inc. since 1992, was proud and happy first place went to his boat. The crew finished out of the money in the coronavirus pandemic-delayed regular season opener on May 23.
“It’s pretty hard to win this tournament,” he said.
And he was even happier to be competing again after the March and April tournaments were postponed by COVID-19.
“It’s nice. With all that’s going on with COVID-19, it hurt a lot. People are slowly getting back to work,” he said, adding he was saddened by relatives and friends who suffered job losses.
Craig Landry, 59-year-old owner of Craig James Landry Construction, said, “It feels good to win. They’ve got a lot of good fishermen out there. It’s really hard.”
One of those hard-fishing “sticks” is Milton Davis, skipper of the boat that brought in the tournament’s Calcutta-winning redfish a week ago Saturday. Davis and crew cashed in in the SFA opener May 23.
Davis fished with Jonathan Rush and Riley Muffoletto. Their 8.20-pounder, which won the Calcutta’s $120, led them to a second-place finish with 14.55 pounds worth $340.
“It looks like they’re coming again. It looks like they’re on some big (red)fish,” Landry said.
Third-place and $170 went to Eddie Toups, Liz Toups, Bryce Reed and Mavrick Toups, whose two redfish weighed 13.55 pounds for $170.