A natural disaster started a wintertime tradition for residents and visitors to lower St. Mary Parish, where Halter’s Island becomes a redfish hotspot each December.
Morgan City’s Bill McCarty, a St. Mary Parish School Board member who owns WHM Services LLC, knows as well as anyone about catching redfish after redfish — most of them 18 to 24 inches long with the occasional bull red — down there.
There’s a good reason avid bass, sac-a-lait and bream fisherman like McCarty started tapping those redfish around this time of year a few decades ago in and around Halter’s Island.
There were no freshwater gamefish to target.
“We started back in 1992,” McCarty said. “We used to go down there after Hurricane Andrew killed all the fish in the Atchafalaya Basin.”
Halter’s Island is located on the north side of Atchafalaya Bay.
The redfish fishing bonanza at Halter’s Island should be on by the end of this month, and continue through January, he said.
It is a brackish water system, saltier if the Atchafalaya River stage at Morgan City is below 3 feet and fresher if it over that river stage.
Regardless of the salinity level, redfish are there, along with the occasional black drum and — every once in a while — a sheepshead.
“The good thing about that is it doesn’t matter what the river stage is. The river stage doesn’t seem to matter much,” McCarty said.
There are beau coup places to fish, mostly the myriad of points around the island that often feature oyster reefs where the redfish like to come, sit down and eat, according to McCarty.
The fishing is especially good right after a cold front blows through the region and water drains from Bayou Carencro, Plum Bayou and Deer Island Bayou, he said.
“You can sit on the points after a front, and the redfish stack up,” McCarty said. “It’s fun?”
The standard approach is to bait up with shrimp and fish under popping corks or Carolina-rigs on the bottom.
He recommended using a 2/0 hook and a ½-ounce weight.
When he’s fishing with shrimp, McCarty doesn’t put out more than two fishing rods and, usually, he uses only one. There’s a good reason for that.
“I learned my lesson the hard way,” he said with a knowing chuckle. “I used to fish with three until I got some of them zinged out of the boat.
“You know how redfish hit: Sometimes they hit and go.”
On warmer days, another way to put redfish in the boat is to fish grass beds with spinnerbait or spoons. A regular bass fishing spinnerbait will do the job quite well, he said.