Victoria native Mark Robinson held his championship trophy as the Budweiser Clydesdales and floats passed down Procter Street in the Motor Parade on the final day of the Mardi Gras of Southeast Texas festivities in Downtown Port Arthur.
The professional angler had a 0.89-pound lead in the Elite Redfish Series Classic Kickoff going into Sunday, and after Robinson caught three fish weighing 23.80 pounds in Louisiana waters, he won the top prize – a $75,000 Yellowfin boat – by a margin of nearly 9 pounds.
“It was definitely a good day out there,” said Robinson, 33, who left the Port Arthur docks with the other anglers at 7:15 a.m. “The tide was higher – wide-open hunting. By 8:45 a.m., I had three fish. And I kept catching them, and kept upgrading and upgrading. Every fish I caught kept getting bigger.”
Robinson couldn’t see beneath the water while he fished, and he relied on a black Berkley Gulp – a plastic paddle bait that mimics redfish prey.
“I got confidence in it,” Robinson said. “You go with what you’ve got confidence in.”
Louisiana angler Trent Brady felt confident sitting at fourth place Sunday morning, when he predicted his catch would weigh 23 pounds. The two redfish he caught weighed only 14.53 pounds, placing him at third place and a $6,500 cash prize.
“You’ll hear us say that we want to catch our first fish by noon,” Brady said. “Well, (his boat) broke down and I didn’t get started until 11 a.m.”
By 11:45 a.m., Brady had caught two redfish and was desperately searching the banks for a third. He had to return to Port Arthur by 3:30 p.m. and started to rush.
“I’m cruising in muddy waters, and I was being impatient,” Brady said. “I must have run over two that I could’ve caught because I wasn’t taking my time.”
Houston’s David Christian almost didn’t make it back to Port Arthur because he had to refill on gas at a Cow Bayou station. Christian had caught three fish – which totaled 16.25 pounds and earned him second place and $10,000 – and after he filled his gas tank, he sped across the buffeting Sabine Lake at 41 miles per hour.
He made it to the docks with just 3 seconds to spare.
“I couldn’t believe I made it,” Christian said.
Jeff Steckler, an angler from Rockport, made the Sunday cut by 0.27 pounds but couldn’t move up from fifth place. His one redfish weighed 3.45 pounds.
“When you think you got it figured out, you’ve got it wrong,” Steckler said. “It was a long shot to be here, and I’m happy to have made it to Day 3. You’re fishing against the best there are.”
The five finalists all struggled against the 14 mph winds, and Shane Dubose – who didn’t catch any fish – joked that it was like “crossing the Bering Sea out there.”
“We all handle the same conditions,” Dubose said. “I just wanted to be a little more consistent.”
Saturday night, the anglers threw beads out of their boats as they were towed down Procter Street during the Total Krewe of Aurora Grand Parade.
“That was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my life,” Victoria’s Robinson said. “Port Arthur was great, and there were so many people.”
Dozens of Southeast Texans gathered around the weigh-in stage and caught T-shirts, beads and koozies as the anglers brought in their catch.
The anglers spoke with the fans for several minutes after the weigh-in, telling them they were looking forward to the Port Arthur “Border Wars” tournament on July 1-2.
“I loved it; I can’t wait ’till they come back in July,” said Port Arthur resident, Cindi Durham, 56, who has been to every Southeast Texas Mardi Gras in the last 25 years.
Durham fishes the area and mingled with the anglers after the ceremony to pick up a few tips.
“Little things,” she said. “Just to watch your tides, the water, where the winds are coming from… I’ll probably try (the tips) sometime in April.”
The parade kept passing after the weigh-in, pelting the anglers with beads. Some stayed and entered the remaining festivities. Some began their trip home.
“The anglers got a taste of our culture, our food, and our atmosphere,” said Callie Summerlin, the Director of Sales and Marketing for the Port Arthur Convention and Visitors Bureau. “What better time to do it than down here during Mardi Gras.”