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ALABAMA'S
SUPER-SIZED Spanish

by Mike Thompson

 

CURRENT MOON
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The scene is the same all along the Gulf Coast during tournament season. One or two individuals draw all the attention when it is their time to weigh in. Past victories in a particular category of fish have caused these anglers to command respect and admiration not only from the curious onlookers at the weigh in, but also from the veteran fishermen who fish for prizes and glory along side these same individuals.

The angler in this scene, however, draws looks not only because of the large fish they bring in, but also for the fact that she is a woman!

Bekki Ludlam draws a crowd at weigh-ins not only for her winning smile, but also for her coolers of winning fish. Although she likes to catch a variety of fish, her favorite is Spanish mackerel. Or should I say, Super Size Spanish!

As a young girl she was a self admitted tom-boy, preferring to bait her own hook with slimy wiggling worms instead of playing with dolls. She looks back fondly of those days shared fishing with her father, W. J. Ralls.

"My dad was a very successful fisherman. So much so that he was always having to take co-workers fishing who wouldn't take no for an answer. He would also take me with him occasionally. When he saw how much I enjoyed it, he made sure to reserve some for me," said Bekki.

Since Bekki enjoyed fishing so much as a child the family vacation was planned for Gulf Shores each year. There they would surf fish or fish off the Gulf State Pier.

"I loved fishing so much that for Christmas I would get rods and reels instead of girl toys," said Ludlam.

Many years later as an adult, the love for fishing never waned. Living on Mobile Bay she would get up early to fish off her pier before heading to work. In the afternoon she would try and fish a little before the sun went down and it was time to cook dinner.

A wonderful thing occurred in the late eighties. Bekki finally met someone who shared her love for fishing, her husband Don. Don was a freshwater fisherman who loved to bass fish.

One weekend, at the invitation of some friends, Bekki and Don took their bass boat down to Dauphin Island to fish for speckled trout and flounder. They had good success and from that point on decided to concentrate their efforts on saltwater fish.

After a few rough trips, they started thinking about getting a saltwater boat. The conditions around the Gulf just made the bass boat impractical, so they purchased a Cape Horn center console boat. Next they joined the Saltwater Sportsman's Association of Alabama, a fishing club. It was there they learned about how to target various species of fish.

"We went to the monthly meetings where we soaked up all the information we could. We participated in the club tournaments where we also learned a lot from the winning fishermen. Bit by bit we improved," said Bekki.

Learning how to catch the big Spanish mackerel she has become famous for almost didn't happen. All their friends caught Spanish the same way, trolling.

So at the advice of these friends, they too trolled for Spanish.

One hot summer day when the winds were still, the Ludlams were trolling for Spanish near Sand Island. Action was slow, so they decided to anchor around a gas platform located a couple of miles off Dauphin Island. They drifted out cigar minnows behind the boat and caught some really nice fish. Not did they catch more fish this way than trolling, but the fish were much bigger. From that day on Bekki and Don have concentrated their efforts on the gas rigs and well heads south of Dauphin Island that are in sight of land.

Although the Ludlams have a favorite rig, they approach fishing all the rigs the same. Don drives the boat up to the rig approaching from down-current. Bekki then casts out 2-3 lines with different baits and allows them to drift with the current. Once the fish are located they anchor the boat. If they don't get a strike within a couple of drifts, they move to the next rig.

Over the last four years Bekki has made quite a name for herself in local tournaments. Specializing in Spanish mackerel, she is in the money more often than not.

"A few years ago we discovered a couple of things that have drastically improved the size of the Spanish we catch. We downsized our lines. We used to use thirty pound line. Now we use fifteen pound line with twenty seven pound wire leader connected with an Albright knot. We also use a number 6 treble hook," Bekki explained.

"Our next discovery, and probably most important, was about our baits. We used a variety of baits such as cigar minnows, silver eels, and pogies. One day we were out around a rig and the fish were really slow. Not just for us, but for everyone around the rig. Don looked in the live bait well where we had several really big live shrimp left over from a morning of inshore fishing. In fact, we thought they were too big for trout and that's why they were not used earlier. Don said, "let's try one," so we did. All of the sudden the action went from zero to a hundred in a hurry!" Bekki said.

Once the discovery was made, the Ludlams began to experiment with depths to fish the shrimp. By putting out several lines at different depths they were able to determine what level the big Spanish were at on a particular day. To do this they used balloons for floats.

Although big live shrimp is her favorite bait, Bekki carries along a variety of baits for backup. Twelve to fifteen inch silver eels and cigar minnows are always onboard.

Another thing the Ludlams believe in is chumming. Don grinds up pogies, Bonita strips and any leftover baits they might have. To do this he uses a household garbage disposal. Add a little water and grind away! He freezes the chum in half gallon containers from his favorite brand of ice cream, Blue Bell.

The Ludlams usually take six half gallons of chum for an all day trip. On one particularly hot day the chum was dissolving fast. Concerned as to whether they had enough chum to last the day Bekki checked the ice chest.

"How many containers of chum do we have left?" asked Don.

"We have two half gallons of chum and one half gallon of Rocky road," Bekki responded. Needless to say, the chum does not go in the freezer with the ice cream anymore!

Just like her line, Bekki likes her tackle light. An Ambassadeur 6500C casting reel mounted on a six foot, six inch, medium to heavy action rod, is her favorite. Her choice of line is Berkley Big Game green.

When asked why she targets Spanish mackerel, Bekki responded, "I like Spanish because they are such great sport. Those speedy runs thrill me every time! They are not too big a fish, which allows me to catch more of them without tiring out. Besides that, I see the Alabama state record (8.8 Ibs.) as attainable. I know it's out there, I've had it on before! While trying to land him, Don is sure he knocked off the record fish with the net. After we lost that fish he sat down and wouldn't fish for an hour."

According to the Ludlams, September is best for catching the larger Spanish; fish in the 6-7 lb. range.

"It seems like the really big Spanish are just making it back to our area around September. They are migrating back east and spend some time just off the Mississippi and Alabama coast. If conditions are mild and things stay dry, we catch big fish all the way through October."

On a typical summer tournament weekend, Don tries to get down to Dauphin Island on Fridays to pull a shrimp net for the jumbos.

"The really big shrimp are hard to come by at the bait shops. Most bait dealers keep the jumbo size shrimp for themselves to eat. The big shrimp I catch go into a wire holding pen at the end of a friends pier on the island," said Don .

Don prefers to allow Bekki the spotlight, insisting that he is just the boat captain.

"Hey, this woman just loves to fish, and I enjoy watching her eyes light up when she's got a big fish on," said Don.

Bekki is quick to point out that her success is a team effort, noting the work that Don puts into a fishing trip.

"Don really does all the work which allows me the opportunity to fish. I share any of my fishing accomplishments with him. Not only is he a great husband, but he is also a great guy !" said Bekki.

In 1998 Bekki Ludlam had an exceptional year. She was the Lady Angler of the year for the Alabama Saltwater Sportsman's Association, A.S.S.A Tournament Champ, and in addition to that, the Master Angler as well. This was the first time a lady angler had ever captured that title.

So, this summer if you are near the Alabama coast fishing around the gas rigs south of Dauphin Island, and see and see an attractive blonde fishing aboard a boat named the "Wholly Mackerel", you'll know it is Bekki. And you can rest assured that she will be after those "super size Spanish!"

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