"Coastal people stick together"
By Pete Robbins
When Gritter Griffin first conceived of the Redfish World Series, it was with one primary goal in mind: to elevate the sport of redfishing to a level of professionalism and the widespread respect of other major sports. Through two iterations of the main event, in 2019 and 2020, he is well on the way to making that happen.
Griffin, however, does not think small.
He could continue to push forward solely with his tournament operation, bringing anglers from all over the southeast US and Gulf of Mexico regions into St. Bernard Parish to compete for the sport’s most prestigious prize. No one would blame him if that’s what he did, but Griffin thinks his organization and his events need to embrace a broader purpose.
And to that end he coined the phrase “Coastal People”.
“We are all ‘coastal people,’ he said of the shrimpers, crabbers, recreational anglers and other resource users who ply the playing fields upon which the Redfish World Series takes place. “We share not only the same waters, but also the same sense of independence, self-sufficiency, drive, resilience, dedication and character.”
It was a point that he made at the Captains Banquet which preceeded the 2020 World Series. “If some of us weren’t engaged in this kind of competition we would likely be competing against nature to make a living the same way they do. In fact, many of them are our neighbors and friends and family members.”
Unlike other sports, tournament fishing takes place on public waterways. You can’t step onto the field and interfere with a kicker attempting a game-winning field goal. Nor can you plant a garden in center field during baseball’s World Series. In fishing, competing uses of the water and its resources are not just something to deal with, but also a factor that plays into tournament strategy – whether it’s fishing around someone’s duck blind or entering your primary area to find someone setting crab traps. While most recreational and tournament anglers are responsible stewards and politely share the water, in some cases they get a bad rap – especially those from out-of-town – even if they don’t do anything wrong.
“The burden is on us to change that perception,” said World Series competitor Fred Myers. “We come in, run around and then leave. A lot of them are on the water 365 days a year. It’s important to extend a hand of friendship.”
He said that Griffin’s speech “changed our focus” from just competing to serving as ambassadors of the sport, and it takes a highly-professional effort to provide that soapbox. “We’ve been waiting on something like this a long time,” Myers added. “None of the previous efforts panned out. But now we have a very, very big platform, and that gives us a chance to heal any disconnect between different groups. Our overall goal is to unite and ultimately protect the resource for all of us. That’s a game-changer.”
Mike Frenette, named by Griffin in 2019 as the sport’s Redfish Ambassador and one of the greatest redfish guides and tournament competitors in the history of the sport, said he “wasn’t surprised” by Griffin’s plea. “I was pleased,” he said. “And I think it was taken to heart by every single person in the room. What’s important about that is that the anglers are from a number of different states, so everyone can take that message back to where they’re from.”
Even Griffin, who had the highest of hopes when he gave his speech, didn’t expect it to impact his cohort so quickly, nor did he expect his anglers to take immediate action. Fortunately, he was surprised. Multiple competitors came to him to talk about how it led them to wave, smile, slow down and idle, or take other action to extend an olive branch to others on the water.
Frenette said: “This isn’t NASCAR. We’re all competitive when we’re staging for take-off, but how much time do you really lose by slowing down? It’s a no-brainer.”
Competitor Brent Juarez of Texas even went so far as to pay to fill up a family shrimper’s boat with gas at a station on the way to the water.
“It’s not that we normally wouldn’t slow down and idle,” said Cole Starr, who is Juarez’s tournament partner. “But this time we were careful to go more out of our way. I noticed that it made everyone more at ease and friendlier to one another, no matter what they were doing.”
Louisiana competitor Keary Melancon said that while there may have been a gap between different interest groups, it was artificial in nature and wholly unnecessary.
“I’m from Grand Isle,” he said. “We charter fished. I worked on shrimp boats. I worked on crab boats. There are a couple of guys who do those things who fish the series. But to hear Gritter say it, it brought us together. You knew you weren’t doing it alone. It’s a more holistic approach to the sport and it’s having a positive impact. It’s long overdue.”
Melancon admitted that there are limited acres of prime water, and limited numbers of hours in the day, so while it’s not an impossible battle, it’s one that will take more than just a few good deeds to achieve something closer to harmony. Nevertheless, he’s optimistic that greater understanding is not that far away. “We’re turning the tide,” he said. “The Parish representatives were present for the Captains Meeting. It would not be a bad idea for us to have some representation from the commercial side, too. I love what Gritter’s doing, and I’d like for them to be able to see how much we have in common. Personally, I have not killed a redfish on purpose in at least three years. I tournament fish. I don’t fish to cook and clean fish.”
Griffin recognizes that one speech won’t solve any disconnect, nor will it keep the good will and good deeds flowing, but he’s in it for the long-term.
“The whole point of this was to begin a healing process,” he said. “To extend the hand of friendship and camaraderie to our cousins on the water. We need to celebrate them. It’s not bragging if you did something good, but we need to grow and maintain a process of change if we’re going to establish a legacy far into the future.”
“We’re all from the same blood,” Frenette concluded. “We just do different things. If we can get more people to think that way, we’ll get more respect ourselves. Everybody that works on the water, no matter what they do, has a tough life. It’s a harsh life. But we’re all out there doing what we love to do, enjoying the freedom that comes with being on the water.”